On Thursday, November 21, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), shown in photo, pushed through a measure that altered rules of the Senate that have been in effect for nearly 225 years.
The action, dubbed the “nuclear option” for its likelihood to invoke a violent reaction from the party out of power and purported permanent impact on the way the upper chamber does its business, was passed 52-48, nearly along partisan lines. Notably, three Democrats joined 45 Republicans in voting to retain the power to filibuster presidential nominees. The Democrats voting with the GOP were Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
Briefly, as a result of Reid’s successful seizure of power, the use of the filibuster against all executive and judicial presidential nominees (other than to the Supreme Court) has been abolished. Those nominees will need a simple majority vote to be confirmed to the posts to which the president has appointed them.
"The American people believe Congress is broken. The American people believe the Senate is broken. And I believe they are right," Reid declared from the Senate floor during deliberation. "The need for change is so very, very obvious.”
Senator Rand Paul, appearing on CNN just minutes after the historic vote, told Wolf Blitzer, “I think what we really need is an anti-bullying ordinance in the Senate. Now we’ve got a big bully — Harry Reid says he’s just going to break the rules and make new rules. It’s never been done this way before.”
Paul accused Reid of abandoning tradition and “breaking the rules to get his way.”
Strangely, the railings of Republicans against Reid’s rewriting of the rules echo sentiments made in favor of a similar alteration attempted during the George W. Bush administration in response to similar obstructionist tactics of key Senate Democrats.
While there have admittedly been moments of rare references to the Constitution, enumerated powers, and checks and balances during recent filibusters (and quasi-filibusters), the history of the tactic is little understood.
Article I, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution reads: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” This is the portion of the Constitution used by filibuster proponents to justify their right to hinder debate and vote by the full Senate on any measure, including executive judicial nominations.
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