The floor fight began when Reid shocked Republicans and some Democrats by triggering a change in Senate rules in order to block an amendment being put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
The change on Thursday night stripped the minority party of the right to "suspend the rules"of the Senate in order to offer an amendment even though there were no slots for amendments available. Republicans have often deployed this tactic since Reid sometimes fills all of the slots before Republicans have a chance to offer their own amendments, in a procedure popularly known as “filling the tree.”
Reid challenged the Republicans' right to "suspend the rules," and although the Senate's referee, the parliamentarian, sided with the GOP, Reid challenged that ruling and ultimately used his Democratic majority to prevail in overturning it in a 51 to 48 vote. Only centrist Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) joined Republicans in voting against his leadership.
Following the vote, the majority leader stood by his decision, saying systematic changes had to be made in the institution in order for it to function properly.
“We have to make the Senate a better place,” said Reid in testy exchange across the aisle with his Republican counterpart.
But as the dust began to settle and rank-and-file Republicans realized what had happened, several assailed Reid’s move, while others simply requested an explanation of what had taken place.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for his part, suggested Reid had made a momentous error in a way that could irreparably damage the Senate’s role in government.
“I think we have made a big mistake tonight and as soon as we all cool off over the weekend I hope we will undo what we did,” said McConnell.
Reid, however, gave no indication he planned to step back from the bold parliamentary move, only agreeing that the body needed to time to cool down before returning to legislative business — the fairly noncontroversial S. 1619, The Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011.
As such, the Senate is expected to return on Tuesday, following the Columbus Day holiday to vote on final passage on that bill.