Harry Reid Might Have No Choice But To Go 'Nuclear'

Republicans have now successfully blocked three of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, setting up another confrontation over Senate procedure.
The fact that Senate Republicans have filibustered the three nominees — plus another earlier this year — leaves Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with a decision to make.

They may have no choice, this time, but to employ the so-called “nuclear option.”

And in confirming a report from The Huffington Post’s Jen Bendery, a senior Democratic aide said a vote on that could come this week.

Not “going nuclear,” aides say, would set up a terrible precedent — that a minority group of senators could try to control the ideological balance of the courts while preventing the president from fulfilling one of his constitutional responsibilities.

That is in essence what Democrats argue Senate Republicans are doing now. On the three blocked D.C. Circuit Court judges — Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins — Republicans have not raised specific qualms with their nominations. Republicans also filibustered the nomination of Rep.
Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency (which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)

Instead, they have charged Obama with trying to “pack” the court with his nominees — a reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s proposal to increase the size of the Supreme Court by as many as five justices.

Democrats point out that Obama is merely filling vacancies on the court. He also pointed out, in a tersely worded statement Monday night after Republicans blocked Wilkins’ nomination, that it is his constitutional responsibility.

By making clear their objections to Obama simply filling vacancies — not with the nominees in general — Republicans have backed Democrats into a corner. In essence, it’s time for Senate Democrats to put up or shut up, after constant fumigating about the possibility of employing the nuclear option.

The proposal that could be voted on this week would change Senate rules by requiring only a simple majority vote to approve executive and judicial nominees. It wouldn’t apply to Supreme Court nominees.

Changing the rules would also only require a simple majority. And Democrats think they have the votes. A Democratic Senate aide pointed to members of the “old guard” who have previously been skittish about drastic rules changes — Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — coming around this time, because they’ve had enough.

“We feel really good about the count,” the aide told Business Insider.

Most recently in July, the Senate appeared on the brink of “going nuclear,” only to end up with a familiar last-minute deal. But the aide said that the only plausible way out of a confrontation this time would be Republicans giving into all three D.C. Circuit Court nominations plus Watt, which would amount to a dramatic reversal.

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