Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option

Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans met behind closed doors Tuesday to debate whether they should reverse changes to the filibuster that made it easier for Senate Democrats to confirm President Obama’s nominees.

GOP lawmakers and senators-elect are at odds over whether their new majority should restore a threshold of 60 votes for breaking a filibuster of most presidential nominees. 

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While many expressed anger over last years’ move by the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidAfter Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination MORE (D-Nev.) to unilaterally change the rules through a procedure known as the “nuclear option,” some say the new rules should be kept in case a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse, Senate GOP compete for cash Overnight Tech: Alleged robocall kingpin testifies before Congress | What lawmakers learned | Push for new robocall rules | Facebook changes privacy settings ahead of new data law | Time Warner CEO defends AT&T merger at trial Senators grill alleged robocall kingpin MORE (R-S.D.) said Republicans will take their time reaching a decision.

“A lot of our guys still feel very strongly about just the wrongness of what [Reid] did and the position it’s put everybody here in the Senate in,” Thune said.

“Now we’re having to go through a fairly lengthy process to figure out, in the majority, how we want to proceed.”

Senators leaving the meeting were tight-lipped about their deliberations.

“Robust discussion, no decision,” Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump struggles to get new IRS team in place Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination Romney won't commit yet to supporting Trump in 2020 MORE (R-Utah) said. 

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzAfter Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp Cruz's Dem challenger slams Time piece praising Trump Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election MORE (R-Texas) told reporters that, while the nuclear option was a “mistake,” he believes the new GOP Senate should keep the rules.

“I don’t think there should be one rule for Democrats and one rule for Republicans,” he said. 

“I think the principle, ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,’ should apply.”

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe risk of kicking higher ed reauthorization down the road Maternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes MORE (R-Tenn.) said the new 51-vote threshold for most nominations should stand but argued Republicans should codify it using the standing rules of the Senate, which requires 67 votes, instead of using the same procedural rule used by Democrats that only needed a majority.

Alexander said he might introduce legislation with Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA Key senators warn Trump of North Korea effort on Syria Rep. Jordan: Action in Syria ‘should be debated in Congress’ MORE (R-Utah) that would require only a majority vote for all nominations.

Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Cybersecurity: Senators eye path forward on election security bill | Facebook isn't winning over privacy advocates | New hacks target health care Paul backs Pompeo, clearing path for confirmation Can Silicon Valley expect European-style regulation here at home? MORE (R-S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainManchin, Donnelly back Pompeo This week: Senate barrels toward showdown over Pompeo Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination MORE (R-Ariz.) both said keeping the new rules would be dangerous. 

Graham said that, while some Republicans are “salivating” over the possibility of being able to more easily confirm their picks under a Republican president, removing the filibuster destroys incentives “to go across the aisle and pick up a few votes.”

“I think that moderating exercise has served this country well. You take that out, you just watch in the next coming decades what kind of judges you’re going to get.”

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFormer Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator GOP Senate candidates trade barbs in brutal Indiana primary MORE (R-Fla.), who is seen as a contender for the White House in 2016, said that, while he hasn’t made up his mind about the rule change, lawmakers should play the long game.

“We’re going to have Democrat presidents in the future at some point as well; we can’t make our decision based on that,” he said. 

“We have to do what’s right for the country, for the Senate as an institution, for the best public policy.”

Graham said both veterans and newcomers to the Senate are on both sides of the issue.

“It’s a hard thing to figure out, but it’s always been easy for me,” he said. “Before I got here, the place seemed to work OK. I don’t want to screw it up.”