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Senators fail in final attempt to avoid ‘nuclear option’ on filibuster rules
Last-minute negotiations failed to break through the Senate’s impasse on nominees, leaving Democrats prepared to ignite the “nuclear option” Tuesday and use a shortcut to change the chamber’s filibuster rules, allowing them to push easily through President Obama’s appointments.
After huddling for more than three hours in a rare all-senators meeting, lawmakers emerged to say they had aired out their grievances in a positive manner, but hadn’t figured out a way to head off the momentous votes scheduled for Tuesday morning.
“It was a very good meeting, but at this point we’re headed toward votes,” said Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who has pushed to curtail filibusters.
Several senators said they still hoped for a last-minute deal, but said no minds were changed in the closed-door meeting.
Earlier in the day, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the ball was entirely in Republicans’ hands — they can agree to all seven nominees he has scheduled for showdown votes Tuesday or else he will pull the trigger on the rules change.
“If the sky is falling, and they think it’s falling, let them stop the filibusters on the seven that I filed cloture on, and we will have up-or-down votes on these people and go on to the business for the day. That seems pretty simple to me,” Mr. Reid said at a speech at the Center for American Progress.
“Cloture” is a Senate term signaling a vote to end a filibuster, and Mr. Reid said he has been forced to hold cloture votes more than any other leader in history — or about twice the rate that Democrats forced Republicans to do from 2003 through the end of 2006.
Asked whether there was “wiggle room” where Republicans could confirm some but not all seven of the nominees, Mr. Reid said flatly, “No.”
Mr. Reid said his changes are limited in scope — they would apply only to executive branch nominees, not to lifetime-appointed judges or to legislation.
Republicans, though, said once the seal has been broken, it’s not a big leap to apply the rules to judges or to legislation.
“It is a big deal. It has the potential to change this institution in ways that are both hazardous and unforeseen,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, a freshman Republican from Arizona.
Indeed, the White House warned Monday that it already sees problems with getting its judges confirmed.
Mr. Reid, in his speech Monday, said he is not pondering a change to the judge filibuster situation.
“On judges, I’m comfortable with our doing what we’re doing,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but I am very comfortable with where we are now, and I’m not trying to spread this to other places.”
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