Sen. Alexander: Dems won't go 'nuclear' because Reid fears Yucca vote

Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Trump administration pays June ObamaCare subsidies to insurers Republicans and the lost promise of local control in education MORE (R-Tenn.) said he’s sure Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems see surge of new candidates Dems to grind Senate to a halt over ObamaCare repeal fight GOP fires opening attack on Dem reportedly running for Heller's Senate seat MORE (D-Nev.) is bluffing about ending the filibuster.

Alexander said that’s because doing so would let Republicans play their trump card against Reid: Yucca Mountain.

Reid “knows that a vote to end the filibuster is a vote to complete Yucca Mountain,” the Tennessee Republican said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

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Reid opposes completing the nuclear waste site the government began building at Yucca Mountain. And Republicans would be able to use a simple majority vote to push ahead with the project once they held the Senate majority if Reid waters down the minority's ability to filibuster while Democrats are in charge, Alexander suggested.

Reid is under pressure to use the parliamentary maneuver known as the "nuclear option" to end filibusters on judicial and administration nominees, though some in his conference worry the rules change would be used to hurt Democrats if they are in the minority again.

Reid, like most Nevada lawmakers, has a long history of resisting the Yucca project. He put it into action in 2009 by backing President Obama's decision to pull the plug on federal reviews for using the site as the nation’s repository for spent nuclear fuel.

Republicans have said the move was illegal, noting that a 1982 federal law names Yucca as the nation’s sole nuclear waste dump. They say depositing the spent fuel elsewhere would violate that law.

There’s some congressional chatter building on nuclear waste legislation. Alexander is one of four senators working on a bipartisan bill that would permit storing waste in places other than Yucca, though Senate Republicans have not fully embraced that idea.

House Republicans, on the other hand, have insisted on using the Yucca site. They have given little impression they intend to budge. 

That would prove a major hitch for the Senate effort, but it’s unlikely that Reid would let that get to the floor.