Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday threatened to move forward with the so-called “nuclear option” to alter Senate rules so that only a simple majority would be needed to consider and confirm President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees.
Stunned by the move, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Reid he could go down as the worst majority leader in the history of the U.S. Senate.
Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell said Reid’s move sends the signal that the Senate should “sit down and shut up” and accept Obama’s appointees.
He argued that Reid had “broken his word” not to pursue the “nuclear option.” McConnell also claimed several Democrats in the Senate are displeased with his threat to change the rules.
“When they tell me that, the Republican I expect they would be least likely to want to tell that to, I know what’s going on here,” he said, referring to Democrats.
McConnell went on: “So, this is really a sad, sad day for the United States Senate. And if we don’t pull back from the brink here, my friend, the majority leader, is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever…It makes me sad.”
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A series of showdown votes was set for next week on seven appointees. But in classic Senate fashion, as the rhetoric grew more intense, the two sides constructed an escape hatch in the form of a rare private meeting set for Monday evening where all 100 senators can seek a compromise out of public view.
The seven nominees include Richard Cordray, named to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whom Reid said was first nominated in July, 2011; and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block, both appointed in December 2011 and Mark Pearce, whose appointment was made last April. Obama named Griffin and Block as recess appointees, bypassing the Senate, but an appeals court has ruled he overstepped his authority and their tenures are in doubt.
Fred Hochberg, nominated as president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States; Labor Secretary- designate Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy, Obama’s pick to head the EPA, are also among the nominations involved. All three were appointed in March.
As the leaders clashed, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) proposed that Republicans and Democrats meet next week to try and reach a compromise. The session will likely be held in an ornate room where the Senate met before the current chamber was built, an arrangement that permits lawmakers to bar the public and the press.
According to Senate records, the most recent such meeting was in January 2007 – when Reid and McConnell wanted to improve working relations among all 100 senators.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.