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 Schumer (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.”

ADVERTISEMENT
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 Reid (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 McConnell (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 Hagel’s nomination to serve as secretary of Defense; 1,100 questions submitted by Republicans to Gina McCarthy, 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.