Republicans evoke Byrd in objections to rule change

Several Senate Republicans evoked the memory of the late-Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) when complaining about the majority’s recent move to unilaterally change the filibuster rules.

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) were just a few GOP senators who used Byrd’s opposition to limiting minority party rights in their arguments against the recent rule change.

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“I am in the process of reading Senator Byrd’s history of the Senate — a remarkable man,” Johanns said. “He would never have stood for this. He never would have tolerated that this institution would be so mistreated by anybody, Republican or Democrat. 

“Boy, in his heyday he would have been at his seat screaming at the top of his lungs about what we were doing to the Senate with this vote, what the majority was going to do to the future of this great body.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered the “nuclear option” to make the change last month. It allows the Senate’s rules to be changed by a majority vote.

The rule change means only 51 votes are needed to end a filibuster on presidential nominations below the level of the Supreme Court. Previously, 60 votes were needed.

The Senate is working its way through a list of 10 executive and judicial nominees that Reid filed cloture on earlier this week.

Republicans have refused to yield back any debate time out of frustration that Democrats changed the Senate filibuster rules last month, allowing several of Obama’s nominees that were previously blocked to get up-or-down votes this week.

“Majority Leader Byrd didn’t have any trouble when he had the same vote number,” Coburn said. “As a matter of fact, what we have seen and what has happened is a lack of effective leadership in building bipartisanship.”

Byrd was the longest serving U.S. senator and was majority leader twice during his tenure. He died while in office in 2010 at age 92.

Sessions accused Reid of abusing his power and reminded the leader that he is one of 100 senators and “puts his britches on one leg at a time” like everyone else.

The Senate has been in session debating nominations since 2 p.m. on Wednesday and is expected to have to work through the weekend if Republicans don’t allow shorter debate times.

The next vote on a nominee will be around 7 a.m. Friday on Deborah James to be secretary of the Air Force.