Harry Reid delays going “nuclear” on filibuster

Harry Reid

Despite frequent threats to go nuclear on the filibuster and minority rights, it looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will temporarily hold off on making changes to the long-held rule when the new Congress comes into session today:

He has a chance to go “nuclear” Thursday, but instead Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to punt a decision on the filibuster until later this month.

With a new Congress being sworn in Thursday, Reid had threatened to invoke what critics call the “nuclear option”: Changing filibuster rules by 51 votes on the first day of a new session, circumventing the usual requirement in which at least 67 senators are needed to change Senate rules.

Instead, he’ll employ a circuitous procedure to technically keep the Senate in its first legislative day by sending the chamber into recess — rather than adjourning. That move would keep the Senate in session, preserving his option of pushing forward with the so-called nuclear option at a later date.

That will buy Reid time for further negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to see if they can reach a bipartisan agreement, aides said Wednesday. It could delay the fight until the week of Jan. 22.

Reid and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed to some rule changes, including eliminating “secret holds” after the 2010 mid-term election. McConnell also agreed to scale back use of the filibuster, although the rules surrounding the tactic were left untouched.

Back in November, reports surfaced that Reid was short on votes to do away with the filibuster as many in his own caucus realized that doing away with the procedural tactic would hurt them when they return to the minority in the Senate.

Just as a reminder, each chamber of Congress is delegated in Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution with the task of determining its own rules, and the filibuster, which has existed for 200 years, has been used as a process of slowing down legislation or in some cases stopping bad legislation. You may be asking how Reid could make such a dramatic change, so here’s how it would go down:

Under the option, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) would send to the Senate desk a resolution changing the rules and ask for it to be adopted immediately. The parliamentarian would rule the request out of order and then the presiding chair — likely Vice President Biden — would affirm or ignore the parliamentarian’s ruling.

The Senate could then uphold Reid’s move to change the rules with a simple majority vote. Biden could break a 50-50 tie in Reid’s favor, meaning Udall and others backing filibuster reform only need 50 votes in the Senate to win.

The most likely time for Reid to use this option is at the beginning of the new Congress.

Ironically, this is exactly what Reid once protested against. How times have changed.

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