Under the false pretenses of conservative obstructionism, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is threatening use of the “nuclear option” to force the confirmation of seven controversial nominees.
The outcome of Reid’s nuclear warfare would be to change the Senate rules so that only a simple majority would be required to end debate on executive branch nominees, as opposed to the current 60-vote threshold. Successfully invoking the nuclear option necessitates changing the Senate rules, which normally requires 67 votes, but would instead be done with 51—Reid would “break the rules to change the rules,” which he and President Obama have railed against in the past. With 54 Democrats in the Senate, Reid would, by all accounts, prevail.
By eliminating the rights of the minority party to extended debate, the nuclear option fundamentally alters the consensus-based nature of the Senate to resemble more closely the majoritarian House of Representatives. As Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky wrote, “It seems [Reid] wants the Senate to forsake its ‘advise and consent’ role and simply become a rubber stamp for presidential nominees, no matter how radical, extreme, or corrupt they may be.” Although Reid has said the change will only be for executive branch nominees, the practice could easily be applied to judicial nominations and legislation as well.
The Senate emerged from its closed-door meeting on Monday evening without reaching a compromise to avoid setting such a dangerous precedent. It does not take another “gang” or grand compromise, however, to recognize that changing the rules at will is in neither party’s best interest. If no deal is struck before this afternoon, Reid plans to push through with introducing the nuclear option. This is a far cry from 2005, when Reid promised never to “employ the nuclear option” because doing so would “ruin our country.”