Reid flirts with nuke option despite GOP shutdown threats

Democrats moved closer Thursday to triggering the nuclear option to change the Senate’s rules after holding a lengthy meeting to discuss President Obama’s stalled nominees.

Democratic leaders on Thursday afternoon spoke out in favor of changing the rules and urged their colleagues to support them, according to senators who attended the meeting.

The decision on whether to proceed with the controversial tactic depends on how votes on stalled nominees play out next week. If Republicans allow several of them to proceed with up-or-down votes, Democrats might have less rhetorical ammo to force a rules change.

Liberal Democrats pushing for a rules change to restrict Republicans from filibustering Obama’s nominees say they are very close to having the 50 votes they need.

Only Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.) and his deputies know the whip count, and they have kept it secret.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinHow House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe Congress dangerously wields its oversight power in Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate MORE (D-Mich.) is one Democrat who has declared his opposition to the nuclear option, because he fears the GOP could use the tactic to ram through legislation curtailing abortion rights or repealing the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Levin said the meeting did not change his mind.

“My position hasn’t changed. I opposed it when the Republicans tried it in 2005, I fought against it then, as did most Democrats when they were trying to jam judges in 2005, and we stood up against it and said you shouldn’t be changing the rules by breaking the rules,” he said.

Levin declined to say how many Democrats agree with him.

Democratic centrists are leery of the controversial tactic.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Finance: House sends Dodd-Frank rollbacks to Trump | What's in the bill | Trump says there is 'no deal' to help ZTE | Panel approves bill to toughen foreign investment reviews House votes to ease regulation of banks, sending bill to Trump Senators demand answers on Trump’s ZTE deal MORE (D-W.Va.) said he could see both sides of the issue.

“It was very interesting, let’s put it that way,” he said of the meeting. “I see it from all different angles. There’s still a lot to be said out there.”

Manchin said Democratic leaders are moving forward toward a rules change.

“The majority leader will speak for himself but I think they’re moving forward,” he said.

The nuclear option, so dubbed because it could cause a meltdown in bipartisan relations, entails changing the Senate’s precedents with a simple majority vote sustaining or overturning a ruling of the chair.

Reid signaled to Republicans Thursday morning that he would use it if they continue to filibuster Obama’s nominees.

He disputed Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGiuliani: White House wants briefing on classified meeting over Russia probe GOP senators introduce Trump's plan to claw back billion in spending The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump now says Korea summit could still happen June 12 MORE’s (R-Ky.) argument that he had promised in a colloquy earlier this year not to use the nuclear option after the Senate reached an agreement to streamline business.

Reid has since panned that deal as a failure.

“One look at the Senate’s executive calendar shows that fundamentally nothing has changed since Sen. McConnell and I entered in our supposed agreement,” he said.

Reid noted there are 15 executive branch nominees ready to be confirmed after waiting “more than 260 days,” he said.

McConnell said Thursday he would allow up-or-down votes on Obama’s nominees to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Pruitt’s security cost .5m in first year | Watchdog clears Perry's use of military, charter flights Pruitt spent .5 million on security during first year as EPA head Pruitt granted extension to file financial disclosure form MORE, and the Labor Department, Tom Perez.

Republicans remain staunchly opposed to Richard Cordray, Obama’s pick to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and his nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (D-Ill.) said McConnell’s concession was insufficient.

“Are we supposed to applaud that two of the president’s major nominees after waiting for weeks and facing hundreds of questions are finally going to get a vote? That should be the normal course of events around here,” he said.

Cordray and the NLRB commissioners were recess-appointed to their positions in January of last year.

Reid said he would set up votes to end debate on the nominees next week, setting the stage for a rules change if Republicans continue to block them.

“We’re going to file cloture on a bunch of nominations. And those votes will occur next week when we schedule them,” he said Thursday morning.

Senate Democrats said they could vote on multiple motions to enter executive session Thursday afternoon to begin the process of considering nominees.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallDem senator presses EPA over reporter 'intimidation' Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus MORE (D-N.M.), an outspoken supporter of a rules change, said Republicans could object to going into executive session, which would require a majority vote to override.

But Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said that scenario is unlikely. He said he could not a recall the minority ever forcing a vote on going into executive session.