Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday hinted that he might change Senate rules again to make it easier to approve President Barack Obama’s nominations over Republican opposition.
Reid also indicated that he is mulling a change to the rules on behalf of Attorney General Eric Holder. Reid said Holder called him on Monday to ask what can be done to speed up the process in the Senate for approving judicial nominations.
Reid said Holder is the country’s top law-enforcement officer, and said Republicans are holding back his work by delaying confirmations.
“It’s hard to fathom that the work of Attorney General Eric Holder and his department is being recklessly hindered by Republican obstruction,” Reid said.
Last year, Reid employed what most call the “nuclear option,” which allowed Democrats to advance Obama’s nominees in a procedural vote without needing any Republican votes. That decision changed decades of precedent in the Senate — prior to Reid’s decision, 60 votes were needed for these procedural votes, which means today that a handful of Republicans had to support the nominee.
The GOP has said Reid’s move was a dangerous decision to strip the minority party of its historic rights in a way that may forever change how the Senate operates. Some Republicans have said since Reid’s decision, Obama’s nominees are no longer answering questions from Republican senators, since they know the GOP is not needed at all for confirmation.
But even though Democrats now have the power to advance and pass nominations without any GOP votes, Reid said on Tuesday that Republicans are still taking steps to delay these confirmations.
Under current rules, Republicans still have the right to delay final votes on nominees by requiring the Senate to sit through blocks of time that are reserved for debate. Reid hinted that he may want to shorten these delays in order to hold more nomination votes.
Specifically, he noted that current rules call for up to 30 hours of debate before circuit court judges are approved, and 8 hours of debate for U.S. attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys. But he said these were “arbitrary” numbers and hinted they could be shortened.
“I don’t plan on changing the rules today again, but how much longer can we put up with this?” Reid said.
Republicans have protested Reid’s use of the “nuclear option” by forcing these blocks of time to be used up, without agreeing to hold the vote earlier. Republicans say this is the only form of protest they have available, but Reid accused the GOP of “pouting” about the rule change.
“Rather than live up to their responsibilities, Republicans are pouting, they’re pouting,” he said. “They are saying, ‘oh, they changed the rules getting these judges done, so we’re going to agree to nothing.’ “