Democratic leaders: Pact that prevented use of the ‘nuclear option’ is dead

Democratic leaders say the Gang of 14 agreement on judicial nominees that, for years, kept the "nuclear option" from being used to change Senate rules is dead.

Senate Democrats are still angry over the Republican blockade of Caitlin Halligan, whom President Obama nominated in September of 2010 to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She withdrew her nomination in March.

“The filibuster of Caitlin Halligan was a travesty. It represented the demise of the Gang of 14 agreement that this Senate has operated under the last few years,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership. “The blocking of the Halligan nomination proves that Republicans now treat judicial filibuster as the rule, not the exception.”

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Although the Gang of 14 deal was originally forged to address filibusters of judicial nominees, its standard had become applicable to executive branch nominees.

Seven Democrats and seven Republicans agreed in 2005 that filibusters of nominees were appropriate only in instances of “extraordinary circumstances.” It averted then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) threat to use the nuclear option to advance President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (D-Nev.) on Thursday stopped short of threatening a unilateral rules change to advance Obama’s blocked nominees, but Republicans fear he is poised to pull the trigger.

Changing the Senate’s procedures with a simple majority vote — as opposed to the 60-vote majority called for in the Senate’s standing rules — is known as the nuclear option because it could cause a meltdown in bipartisan relations.

Reid expressed hope that Republicans would begin to cooperate on nominees.

“You can’t expect us to do anything. I’m hopeful and confident this will work out,” he said.
 
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (Ky.) accused Democrats of intimidation.

“This is the culture of intimidation that we’ve seen at the IRS, that we’ve seen at HHS [Health and Human Services], at the FEC [Federal Election Commission], at the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] and now here,” he said in reference to various federal agencies.

“Do what I say when I say it. Sit down, shut up or we’ll change the rules,” he added, characterizing the perceived Democratic threat.

Reid said the bipartisan agreement struck earlier this year to modify Senate rules has done “virtually nothing to alleviate the obstruction we’ve seen for five months now from the Republicans.”
 
Reid cited a Republican filibuster of Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report Billionaires stopping climate change action have a hold on Trump, GOP MORE’s nomination to serve as secretary of Defense; 1,100 questions submitted by Republicans to Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyTrump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on EPA chief to visit Colorado mine spill site In the fight between Rick Perry and climate scientists, Perry is winning MORE, Obama’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and GOP threats to filibuster Richard Cordray’s nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Republicans have agreed to an up-or-down vote Thursday afternoon on Sri Srinivasan, Obama’s latest pick to fill one of four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court. McConnell initially insisted that Srinivasan come up for a vote after the Memorial Day recess, but Democrats argued that his nomination has already languished for a year.

He is expected to easily win the 51 votes needed for confirmation.