Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) announced Thursday his intention to pursue the nuclear option to push through President Barack Obama’s controversial labor nominees.
Reid emerged from a meeting with the Democratic caucus to announce that he will lower the threshold on executive appointments from 60 to 51.
"We shouldn’t be waiting around here for months and months and months to get a vote," Reid said on the Senate floor. "I want this resolved. … We’re going to go ahead and do what is good for the country."
Republicans slammed Reid, warning that changing the Senate’s rules would "irreparably damage the Senate" and calling on the Nevada Democrat to hold a bipartisan closed-door meeting to avoid the groundbreaking rule change.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Labor Committee, said Reid is manufacturing a crisis to bully Obama’s nominees through the Senate. He cited several statistics that contradict Reid’s narrative of an obstructionist GOP denying Obama his right to a cabinet.
"President Obama is being better treated in terms of cabinet nominees than the last three presidents," he said, citing statistics from the Senate Historian that Obama’s nominees are moving faster than Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan. "Someone in the Democratic caucus needs to hear this."
Alexander blamed Reid’s failure to introduce Obama’s nominees to the full Senate for the delays.
Senate committees have approved a number of nominations, including those of controversial Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, but Reid has yet to put them to a full vote. He assured Democrats that each of Obama’s nominees would get a fair hearing from Republicans, but drew the line at three nominees who Obama unconstitutionally appointed: NLRB Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray.
"The only way you can get your name to the floor is if the majority leader [Reid] brings your name to floor," he said. "We could clear this calendar in one afternoon. The majority leader can bring everyone up except the three who were illegally appointed."
Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) brought up Reid’s arguments against Republican attempts to invoke the nuclear option to end Democratic filibusters on President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees in 2005. He said that the Democratic caucus is not arguing in good faith.
"Of the 1,564 nominations that President Obama has sent to senate, only four of them have been rejected. … Confirming nominees is the norm, not the exception," he said. "Senate Democrats should remember their prior commitments and abandon this plan before they irreparably damage the Senate."
Powerful labor groups have been pressuring Democrats to invoke the nuclear option to push through controversial, union-friendly nominees, including Block, Griffin, and potential Labor Secretary Tom Perez.
AFL-CIO boss Richard Trumka demanded that Reid "pull the trigger" on the rule change on Wednesday, while the Communication Workers of America threatened to withdraw support from any Democrat who does not support the nuclear option.
Alexander warned Democrats that changing the rules would set a precedent for future Republican majorities that would not serve Democratic interests.
"What [Reid’s] proposing to do is to turn this body into a place where the majority can do whatever it wants to do," he said. "This year it could be a Democratic freight train; in a year and a half it could be the Tea Party Express."
Reid said he could put the rule change to a vote as early as next week.