Reid fears GOP could stall immigration reform over nuclear option talk

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Senate Democrats are mulling a controversial maneuver to strip from Republicans the power to filibuster executive and judicial branch nominees. The nuclear option entails changing the Senate rules with a simple majority vote and it’s viewed as a dramatic escalation of partisan tactics.

The issue is expected to come to a head in July, when Reid is planning to force action on some of President Obama's stalled nominees. Obama nominated three judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday and accused Republicans of obstructionism.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday asked Reid to make clear whether he intends to trigger the nuclear option. Republicans say Reid promised at the beginning of the year not to use the nuclear option during the 113th Congress after striking a deal on rules reform.

Reid on Tuesday said McConnell had issued a veiled threat to hold up comprehensive immigration reform heading to the Senate floor next week.

“I was a little concerned this morning to see what my Republican counterpart said and, just so there’s no misunderstanding, here’s what he said: ‘It will be important for the Senate to understand before we go much further here, just what the majority leader’s intentions are,' ” Reid told reporters. “I guess that’s a threat that he’s not going to move forward on immigration reform.

“I was terribly disturbed to hear him say this. [It] threatens to hold up this bill over completely unrelated matters to fixing our broken immigration system,” Reid added.

McConnell has previously said he would vote for the motion to proceed to immigration reform, a promising sign for the immigration debate.

But Reid fears Republicans may ultimately block the bill, one of President Obama’s top priorities, to retaliate against Democrats for contemplating the nuclear option.

Democrats argue that Reid is not beholden to any agreement on Senate rules struck at the beginning of the year because Republicans have not held up their end of the bargain.

“Sen. McConnell fails to note the context: this agreement was a two-way street in which Senator McConnell committed to ‘process nominations, consistent with the norms and traditions of the Senate,’ " said a Democratic leadership aide. “By any fair accounting, Senate Republicans have failed to uphold their side of that agreement.”

McConnell said he would continue to press the issue.

“If your word doesn’t mean anything around here, we need to know that and we need to know it now and I asked him again this morning if he intends to keep his word to the Senate and the American people,” said McConnell. “I’m going to ask him again in the morning.”

McConnell said Reid’s promise not to use the nuclear option was not a “contingent” promise.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, disputed Reid's efforts to link the floor debate over procedure to immigration reform.

"While Sen. Reid is free to conjecture all he wants, Sen. McConnell didn’t even talk about immigration today. He simply asked whether or not Sen. Reid would keep his word—by the way, Sen. Reid still hasn’t said whether or not he will do that," said Stewart.

The GOP aide pointed to Reid's statement in January that he would "oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order."

--This report was updated at 7:35 p.m.