McConnell whipped for Lynch, avoiding nuclear fallout

McConnell whipped for Lynch, avoiding nuclear fallout
© Francis Rivera

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Valerie Jarrett slams GOP for not including women in healthcare discussions MORE (R-Ky.) worked quietly to round up more than 60 votes to end a filibuster of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch, Republican senators say.
 
After holding up Lynch’s confirmation vote for weeks, McConnell worked to ensure she would overcome a filibuster with a strong bipartisan vote, pitting him against Tea Party firebrand Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzKoch-backed group launches new ads on tax reform Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want Overnight Healthcare: GOP infighting erupts over bill | How Republican governors could bring down ObamaCare repeal | Schumer asks Trump to meet with Dems MORE (R-Texas) and other conservatives.

Some GOP senators say McConnell wanted to avoid a battle over the “nuclear option,” the controversial tactic then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems face identity crisis Heller under siege, even before healthcare Charles Koch thanks Harry Reid for helping his book sales MORE (Nev.) employed in 2013 to reduce the threshold for ending a filibuster of most executive nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority.
 
One lawmaker said McConnell quietly talked to colleagues about voting to advance Lynch to a final up-or-down vote.
 
“He wanted to avoid the conundrum of having to decide whether to overturn the nuclear option,” the GOP senator said.
 
If the motion to end the filibuster passed with fewer than 60 votes, any senator could have challenged the ruling of the chair allowing debate to be cut short by a simple majority vote.
 
“It would have taken just one person to object to the ruling of the chair,” the lawmaker added. “It would have been very clumsy.”
 
“It’s a dicey thing,” said another Republican senator, who added that McConnell had good reason to avoid an open debate on Senate rules.
 
Twenty Republicans including McConnell and his top two deputies, Whip John CornynJohn CornynUnresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill Senators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan MORE (Texas) and Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneBehind closed doors, tensions in the GOP Pro-Trump group pulls ads targeting GOP senator on ObamaCare repeal GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate MORE (S.D.), voted to advance Lynch.
 
The motion to end debate on her nomination passed 66-34 and she won confirmation 56-43.
 
A senior Republican aide, however, dismissed the theory that McConnell was worried about an impromptu floor fight.
 
“No one was going to object so it’s moot,” said the aide.
 
The aide asserted that Lynch had broad support regardless of any possible machinations over Senate procedure, noting her final tally was only a handful of votes short of 60.
 
Cornyn and Thune, however, voted no on final confirmation.
 
Another aide said McConnell was less worried about the prospect of an objection and an ensuing debate over the ruling of the chair than he was about publicly validating Reid’s decision to lower the threshold.
 
“He’s doing this because he does not want to give credence to the Reid position that you ought to be able to get these people confirmed with less than 60 votes,” the aide said.
 
Senate Republicans remain split over whether to reverse Reid’s action of November 2013 to lower the bar for ending filibusters of executive and judicial branch nominees. It did not affect Supreme Court nominees.
 
The move infuriated Republicans at the time because Democrats changed an important Senate precedent with a party-line vote. The tactic is known as the nuclear option because it’s considered extremely controversial in the traditionally clubby Senate.
 
Some Republicans such as Sens. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Senate panel passes defense policy bill | House panel presses on with markup | Trump officials say WH statement prevented Syria chemical attack | NATO pledges to raise spending Senate panel passes 0B defense policy bill GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGOP senators want surveillance requests from FBI Russia probe Overnight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate MORE (S.C.) want to restore the 60-vote threshold for advancing nominees to final up-or-down votes.
 
“I think 60 votes for cloture is good on multiple fronts. It shows recognition the president deserves an up-or-down vote on his nominees, in this case the attorney general,” Graham said Tuesday.
 
But others such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyCoal, nuclear vie for supremacy in key Energy Department study GOP senators want surveillance requests from FBI Russia probe Overnight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership MORE (Iowa) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Unresolved issues, very little time for Senate GOP Overnight Regulation: Trump pick would swing labor board to GOP | House panel advances bill to slow ozone regs | Funding bill puts restrictions on financial regulators MORE (Utah) want to keep it at a simple majority.
 
“Most of the caucus has come to the conclusion that if we go back to 60 votes when we’re in the majority, when the Democrats get back in we’ll go back to 50,” Grassley said. “You shouldn’t have one rule for Republicans and one for Democrats.”
 
Sens. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Regulation: Trump pick would swing labor board to GOP | House panel advances bill to slow ozone regs | Funding bill puts restrictions on financial regulators Overnight Tech: Trump targets Amazon | DHS opts for tougher screening instead of laptop ban | Dem wants FBI to probe net neutrality comments | Google fine shocks tech The Prescription Drug User Fee Act must refrain from adding Right To Try provisions MORE (R-Tenn.) and Mike LeeMike LeeMedicaid becomes big threat to GOP’s healthcare revival Healthcare wish lists: What moderates, conservatives want GOP infighting erupts over healthcare bill MORE (R-Utah) introduced a resolution in February to codify the lower threshold for ending filibusters for all nominees.
 
It would have established a tradition of approving all presidential nominees by a simple majority vote but stalled in the face of opposition from fellow Republicans.    
  
“We’re in limbo-land here,” Graham said.
 
Some GOP senators say McConnell did not want to risk a messy floor fight, in case someone objected to moving Lynch to a final confirmation vote with less than 60 votes.
 
Cruz scolded his leadership Thursday for allowing her to advance, citing her refusal to state in testimony before Congress that American citizens deserve employment more than illegal immigrants.
 
“There are more than a few voters back home that are asking what exactly is the difference between a Democratic and Republican majority when the exact same individual gets confirmed as attorney general, promising the exact same lawlessness, what’s the difference?” he said.
 
A senior Senate aide noted that a senator could have objected to the precedent of ending filibusters with simple majorities regardless of how many votes Lynch received to advance to final consideration.
 
But such an objection could have more force if Lynch advanced with fewer than 60 votes
 
“It gives you a data point as to the reason why you raised your point of order,” the aide said.
 
Reid invoked the nuclear option during a non-debatable post-cloture period. Any would-be Republican objector would have had a parallel situation to protest Reid’s move.