No Deal, Despite Progress, After All-Senate Nuclear Option Meeting

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Drew Angerer / Getty Images

A Senate joint caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The U.S. Senate huddled as a whole behind its old chamber doors Monday night, long after the nearby cafeterias had been shuttered, to debate without cameras or a public gallery for over three and a half hours the rule change proposal by Majority Leader Harry Reid to permit simple up-and-down majority votes on certain presidential nominations. The conversation created no immediate breakthrough on an impasse which threatens to upend Senate decorum, but for many senators leaving the room, the ice of historic partisanship began to thaw in the rare meeting.

“There’s hope in a hopeless world,” said Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat, as he made his way out.

“No, there’s no deal, but there’s a much better understanding,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia.

“It was cathartic for some,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, who sat in between Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Cardin of Maryland for the long discussion. “Everyone was respectful. It was a good discussion. Without cameras it’s a different environment, it really was.”

“It was certainly one of the high points in my time here,” said Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “Hearing people actually stand up and talk and make compelling arguments, and listen, and learn—it’s the way it ought to work.”

After the meeting Reid continued to meet with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to hammer out a compromise, but Democrats said he was still prepared to act without Republican support. The issue is likely to come to a head on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

Reid has threatened the “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s historic rules with a simple majority vote despite his misgivings while in the minority because Republicans have moved to block at least seven executive appointments: Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez for the Department of Labor, Fred Hochberg for the Export-Import Bank, Richard Cordray for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and three Democratic seats on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, argued to TIME that Reid could have gotten the nominees if that’s all he wanted. “Republicans over the weekend thought we had a deal,” said Wicker. “The resolution would be that we reserve the right to executive nominations, but the President fills all of the seven slots that are in controversy now.”

Reid rejected that offer because McConnell refused to refrain from filibustering future presidential nominees, according to POLITICO. Wicker says that the primary concern now is the NLRB nominations, and that there is a “50-50 chance” that Reid will go nuclear. Richard Cordray, who 43 Republican Senators had sworn to oppose, will get confirmed “either way,” said Wicker.

Two of the NLRB nominees—Sharon Block and Richard Griffin—have waited 579 days for confirmation, according to the Huffington Post, and Cordray has waited 730 days to be confirmed. Senate Republicans have blocked Cordray’s confirmation not because of him necessarily—indeed they have written they would block any director—but because they would prefer the CFPB to be overseen by a board, and to be subject to the congressional appropriations process. Currently it is a beneficiary of the Federal Reserve, which operates independent of direct federal oversight.

Obama appointed Democrats Block and Griffin to the NLRB when Congress was out of session, a so-called “recess appointment” that was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments next term on the legality of recess appointments to the NLRB. The board will be run by two Republicans and one Democrat if Block and Griffin aren’t confirmed, or replaced by other Democrats.

“This is really a moment in history where circumstances dictate the need for change. Minor change, no big deal,” Reid said in a speech at the liberal Center for American Progress Monday morning. “Remember, all we want to do is what the Constitution says we should do. Filibusters are not part of the Constitution—that is something that senators developed on their own to get legislation to pass. Now it is being used not only to get legislation from stop passing, but to stop nominees. It’s in a totally different place than where it should be.” (For how Reid and McConnell have each used the Constitution to argue both sides of majority rule, read my colleague Michael Scherer’s article here.)

Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, said after the meeting that the NLRB issue is a “sticking point” because it is a “blatant unconstitutional act by the President.” The Monday meeting didn’t assuage his concerns, either. “I don’t feel very good about it, to tell you the truth. I’m glad we had the meeting, I appreciate it, but there are too many senators who don’t understand the danger of the precedent,” said Alexander. “Imagine what we Republicans would do in a year and half if we were in the majority. We would have a completely different agenda.”

Alexander was one of the few who emerged from the meeting Monday with a sour taste. Still, at the end of a long day, little concrete could be shown. When asked outside some elevator doors if he believed Reid had shown a different understanding, Arizona Republican John McCain said, “Yes.”

Then, as the doors were closing, he followed with a smile, “Sort of.”

UPDATE at 11:00 AM: Majority Leader Reid said on the Senate floor that he there were a “few I’s to dot and T’s to cross,” but he is “fairly confident” that there is a way forward. “I think everyone will be happy. It is a compromise. I think we get what we want, and they get what they want. Not a bad deal,” said Reid. He praised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in particular for his efforts. “No one was able to break through except him,” Reid said.

7 comments
mary.waterton
mary.waterton

During the Bush years the democrats filibustered to the max and loved every minute of it. When republicans threatened to use the "nuclear option", the democrats and the liberal news media hypocrites howled that "democracy was under attack" ......... as if there is anything democratic about filibustering. So now the shoes is on the democrat foot and it's pinching.


I hope to God the hypocritical democrats do abolish the filibuster. I WANT THEM TO ABOLISH THE FILIBUSTER. I'M PRAYING THEY ABOLISH THE FILIBUSTER. Sure, the democrats will hurt the country with their appointments in the short-term, but the country will be better off in the long-term. It would be a blessing in disguise.

Sue_N
Sue_N

I wonder how much different would things be if senators had to actually filibuster – the old-fashioned standing, talking filibuster – instead of just threatening to. Some of us have been pushing for this for years now. If they want to block something, make them work for it. They keep telling us poor schlubs we need more skin in the game, now it's their turn.

Make. them. filibuster.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

Imagine what we Republicans would do in a year and half if we were in the majority.
 

The problem with the filibuster is that it allows Senators to escape responsibility for their actual intentions. If the Republicans get control of the Senate and can pass their agenda, they will make a series of really bad laws and be held directly accountable to the voters for the results. The whole point of "Senate decorum" is to allow shameless grandstanding without anyone's agenda ever being in danger of being enacted  Think of how many bills the House has voted on secure in the knowledge that they will never become law. It's an addiction.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mary.waterton It is just politics. And Republicans are behaving like suckers. The Democrats play for keeps and will use any means to ensure their agenda. Republicans play as if there is always a tomorrow. So in the meantime, the rug is being pulled from underneath them without them knowing it. And having RINOs in their midst is not helping their cause any.

jmac
jmac

@mary.waterton Again, this article and the poster ignore the fact that this  "nuclear" action is not about judicial nominees ( or legislation, as quoted in the article). 

This is about Obama getting the same respect Bush got and these secret filibusters don't do us any good.  Stand up and talk if you want to filibuster - let American's know what you're trying to hide.  

MrObvious
MrObvious

@mary.waterton 

Here's the problem - statistics shows you wrong.

No amount of all cap can change actual data.