Harry Reid goes “nuclear” on the filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and most members of the Democratic conference voted today to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for executive nominations, excluding Supreme Court appointments, after Republicans blocked three appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Executive nominees now need only 51 votes to win confirmation from the Senate. The change was approved by the Senate by a vote of 52 to 48. Three Democrats — Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Mark Pryor (D-AR) — joined every Senate Republican to vote against the rule change.

Reid complained that Republicans had forced him to call for the change in Senate rules because of, what he called, “unprecedented obstruction” and claimed that the it’s “something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again.”

“The American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. The American people – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock,” said Reid from the Senate floor. “The American people want Washington to work for American families once again.”

The rule change is an attempt to change the narrative. President Obama and Democrats have talked up “gridlock” in government to get attention off of the problems with Obamacare. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made that point to colleagues this morning.

“I’d be looking to change the subject just as Senate Democrats have been doing with their threats of going nuclear and changing the Senate rules on nominations,” said McConnell. If I were a senator from Oregon, which hasn’t enrolled a single person yet for its Obamacare exchange, I would probably want to shift the focus too.”

“Millions of Americans are hurting because of a law Washington Democrats forced upon them – and what do they do about it? They cook up some fake fight over judges that aren’t even needed,” he added.

President Obama praised the rule change. “I support the step a majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business, more specifically, the way the Senate does business,” he told reporters, adding later that “if you got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass.”

Not only does is this a clear attempt to change the subject away from Obamacare, it’s also an attempt to sway the influence of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second most influential court in the country. Reid said as much in August.

“We’re focusing very intently on the D.C. Circuit,” said Reid in an interview with a Nevada-based radio station, according to Talking Points Memo. “We need at least one more [seat filled]. There’s three vacancies. And that will switch the majority. So we’re working on it.”

The D.C. Circuit doesn’t need more judges. In fact, this court is the most underworked in the country.

The filibuster has long-been a tool to protect minority rights in the Senate. Doing away with it or curtailing it may be convenient for Democrats in the short-term, but they will wind up in the minority at some time in the future and will have to deal with a significantly weakened ability to fight an agenda they don’t like.

The hypocrisy here is palpable. Reid and Senate Democrats, including Obama, fought then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) back in 2005 when there was talk of ending the filibuster for judicial nominees.

“[The filibuster is] within the vision of the Founding Fathers of our country. They established a government so that no one person — and no single party — could have total control,” said then-Minority Leader Reid. “Some in this Chamber want to throw out 217 years of Senate history in the quest for absolute power. They want to do away with Mr. Smith coming to Washington. They want to do away with the filibuster. They think they are wiser than our Founding Fathers. I doubt that’s true.”

Obama, then a senator from Illinois, said that eliminating the filibuster would “put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse.”

There is also a slippery slope. What’s to stop changes to the filibuster when pieces of legislation desired by President Obama, or some future executive, are blocked? That precedent has now been set, unfortunately, because of this party’s relentless pursuit of political power.

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