Dems renew 'nuclear option' talk

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are again threatening to change Senate rules after Republicans blocked a pair of the president’s nominees on Thursday.

The blockade of two of the president’s picks has renewed talk among Democrats about the “nuclear option," which would change Senate rules to allow a nominee to be confirmed with a majority vote.

Republicans on Thursday blocked motions to end debate on confirming Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Patricia Millett to join the D.C. Circuit Court.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the obstruction “unprecedented” and said changes must be made going forward. However, he said he hoped to make those changes “through cooperation” with Republicans.

ADVERTISEMENT
“Republicans are serving the Tea Party instead of their constituents. Americans of all political stripes want their leaders to put ideology aside in common-sense cases like these,” he said in a statement.
Vice President Biden, who was in the chamber Thursday to swear in newly elected Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) suggested Reid should consider changes the rules. 
 
“I think it’s worth considering,” he told reporters. 

Watt and Millett both fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance their nominations to final votes.

GOP lawmakers argued Watt lacked the experience to oversee mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And they said the D.C. court has a light caseload, so Millett does not require a speedy confirmation.

The blocked picks upended a tentative truce the Senate struck earlier this year.

Senate Democrats had previously threatened to go nuclear to advance several long-stalled picks, but a private meeting of the full Senate averted it. At the time, leaders in both parties were optimistic the deal would set a new course for the Senate, but Wednesday’s vote sent those who had pushed for rules changes in the past right back to their earlier message.

"What happened today was really an attack on the other branches of government," Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said. "In January, [Senate Republican Leader] Mitch McConnell [Ky.] made a commitment to return to the norms and traditions of the U.S. Senate. On nominations, the norms and traditions are up and down votes, and we did not get that today. That is something that cannot stand as it is.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said Wednesday’s votes proved “once again” the need for rules reform.

“I have said for a long time: The Senate is broken. I called for changes in the Senate rules at the beginning of this Congress, but we didn't do enough,” he said in a statement. “And now we're right back in the same dysfunctional situation.”

Some members of both parties have resisted such rule changes, arguing it could destroy the institution's traditions. And some Democrats have also noted that such a drastic change could put the party at a disadvantage if Republicans win a majority in the chamber.

— Updated at 4:45 p.m.
 
— Alexander Bolton and Erik Wasson contributed.