By Alexander Bolton - 10/14/11 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Republicans say Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must undo last week’s “nuclear option” if he wants to defuse their anger and restore peace to the upper chamber.
They are brushing aside Reid’s efforts to soothe them with private phone calls, offers of meetings and promises to allow amendments to appropriations bills that are scheduled to reach the floor next week.
Republican senators across the ideological spectrum united in resisting the majority leader’s blandishments.
“He called me up and said, ‘My door is open anytime you want to come discuss something. I respect you and you respect me,’ which is true,” said a GOP senator, recounting his conversation with Reid.
But Senate Republicans say that Reid’s efforts to make amends will fall short unless he reverses himself on last week’s sudden change of precedent, which has the force of a rule.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who won her reelection bid last year as an independent, said that if Reid wants to restore peace, he should “reinstate the rule that was changed.”
Murkowski applauded Reid’s decision to bring three pending trade agreements to the floor Wednesday, move to less controversial appropriations bills in the week ahead and allow GOP amendments on those bills, but said it does not make up for last week.
“It doesn’t change a rule; it does not reinstate the rights of the minority. It’s one thing to throw a bone to us, but he was going to move on those bills anyway, so there’s not any great trade here,” she said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Reid’s change of Senate precedent was “a very, very big thing” and called it “very shocking.”
“I believe there was a bipartisan understanding that long-settled rules of the Senate should not be played with like that,” he said.
“He needs to back off,” Sessions added, calling on Reid to reverse course. “I don’t think we’ll have the kind of relationship we ought to have in the Senate if they try to maintain that was legitimate.”
If Reid doesn’t re-establish the precedent, Republicans say, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will retaliate.
“McConnell cares about the institution, and he won’t take this lightly,” said a GOP senator.
Reid’s and McConnell’s offices did not comment for this article.
Some Democrats are skeptical that McConnell has much recourse, noting that Republicans have maxed out their obstructionist tactics, even going so far as object to minor technical corrections to legislation.
But the GOP senator, speaking on background, said his leader could do more to derail the agenda.
“He could use every ounce of his power, just like Reid did when he changed the rule,” said the source.
Reid deployed a rarely seen tactic to alter Senate precedent with a simple majority vote, catching Republicans and even many members of his own caucus by surprise.
Reid’s maneuver stripped Republicans of the power to force votes on amendments. It thwarted McConnell’s effort to force Democrats to vote on President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill as originally drafted.
Some Democrats opposed the initial plan, and a vote on it could have been embarrassed the White House. The Democrats opposed the White House’s offsets, which would have curbed tax deductions for families earning over $250,000 a year. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week that this group counts as middle-class in some parts of the country.
Reid, through the controversial rules change, was able to protect Obama’s jobs bill from being rejected by most senators. The revised measure attracted 51 votes, which Obama’s reelection campaign has touted as a “clear majority” of the Senate. The motion fell nine votes short of the 60-vote threshold.
The majority leader said he stripped Republicans of the power to offer amendments after the Senate votes to limit debate on legislation because some of those measures are intended only to cause delays.
Notwithstanding Reid’s explanation, he seems eager to move on from the floor fight over Obama’s jobs plan.
McConnell has on several occasions offered to allow an up-or-down vote on the latest version of the plan, which Senate Democrats rewrote to include a surtax on millionaires, but Reid has declined those overtures.
If the Senate voted on the substance of the legislation — instead of a procedural motion to consider — there would be additional Democratic defectors, including Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Reid has suggested a joint Democratic-Republican caucus meeting to give lawmakers a chance to clear the air.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine), a centrist Republican who Democrats consider a crucial swing vote, likes the idea of a bipartisan caucus but still wants Reid to reverse the change in Senate precedent.
“I think actions speak louder than words and I think we need to go back to the regular order of business in the United States Senate,” she said. “I think it’s important that we restore the normal traditions and procedures of the Senate. I think every time we encroach on the rights of the minority, it makes it much more difficult.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) also says Reid should backtrack on the Senate precedent, arguing that any other effort to make amends would fall short.
“I think they will; I think they know they really stepped in it,” he said. “I think of their own accord they’ll want to fix it and realize it does tremendous damage to the institution.”
But Reid has so far shown no sign of backing down. He appeared to cross the point of no return by publishing a forceful defense in The Washington Post.
“The precedent we set merely returns the Senate to the regular order and only affects the ability of the minority to obstruct and delay after more than 60 senators have voted to end discussion,” Reid wrote in a Monday op-ed. “We restored the balance between individual rights and comity in the rules of the Senate.”
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said there would be resistance cooperating on even small matters unless Reid backed down and re-established the minority’s right to offer motions to amend legislation after the Senate has voted to move to final passage.
“This is really a slap in the face,” he said. “He needs to bring it back up and get 51 votes to change it back.
“I think we’re at a low point,” he added.