Senate Republicans set talkathon to strike back over nuclear option

Senate Republicans made plans Wednesday to stage a more than 30-hour talkathon on the chamber floor to protest Democrats’ triggering of the “nuclear option” last month.

The GOP protest, which could extend into the weekend, will throw a wrench in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) hopes of wrapping up legislative business for 2013 as soon as possible.

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The Republicans aimed to push a final vote on Nina Pillard, one of President Obama’s picks for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, until the wee hours of the morning.

Senate Republicans planned to hold the floor throughout the night, speaking out against Reid’s use of the nuclear option. Reid invoked the controversial tactic before Thanksgiving to strip the minority party’s power to filibuster judicial and executive branch nominees. The change did not affect Supreme Court picks.

“When you blow up the Senate rules, there has to be a consequence,” one Republican senator said.

“We’ll stretch this into the weekend if need be,” the lawmaker added.  

A GOP source said that so far 36 senators had signed up for hourlong speaking slots on the floor, which would tie up business until early Friday morning.

The tactic is similar to all-night talk sessions Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) held to protest the administration’s drone policy and the Affordable Care Act, respectively.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said the talkathon could drag out the confirmation of 10 nominees until Saturday evening and potentially delay a vote on a bipartisan budget deal until Monday. 

  “All they’re doing is highlighting their own impotence,” the aide said. “The Republicans no longer have the tools to delay that they had before.” 

As of Wednesday evening, the Senate was expected to vote at 1 a.m., 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Thursday.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) started the extended debate Wednesday afternoon by slamming Pillard’s nomination and decrying the Democrats’ unilateral effort to rewrite Senate procedures.

Republicans are still fuming over the use of the nuclear option, which allowed Democrats to change Senate rules with a simple majority vote. Traditionally, 67 votes are needed to alter the rules.

“What they did on this rules change [is] the first time in the history of the United States Senate that we changed the rules without 67 votes,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said. “The ill will that has been inflicted by that action is incalculable.”

Democrats argue they did not rewrite the Senate rules but instead changed the chamber’s precedent, which has the effect of a rules change.

Reid said the Senate changed its rules 18 times since 1977 before triggering the nuclear option.

Republicans said Wednesday they will retaliate by forcing Reid to call in his colleagues to a vote on Pillard after midnight.

“I imagine people will want a full and robust debate on this very controversial nominee,” one Senate GOP leadership aide said.

“This is exactly the sort of nominee who had zero chances of confirmation before the nuclear option,” another senior GOP aide said.

Reid could alter the schedule by postponing the vote on Pillard until regular business hours on Thursday, a GOP aide noted. 

Democrats, who themselves are irate over Republican obstruction, said they will stick to their plan to confirm Pillard as soon as possible, even if it leaves them bleary-eyed.

“We’re voting at 1 a.m. if Republicans keep playing their damn games,” a Democratic aide said.

— This story was updated at 3:02 p.m. and at 7:32 p.m.