Reid's Filibuster Reform Threat Seems Sh

July 16 [Tue], 2013, 6:18
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to change Senate rules to allow a majority vote on presidential nominations may be simply that: a threat. Republicans need to believe that Reid stands ready to pull the trigger on the threat, evocatively dubbed the "nuclear option." According to an analysis by The Atlantic Wire, that threat is iffy.

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In theory, presidential nominations already require a majority vote. But in our filibuster-happy Senate, votes involving anything controversial are assumed to need 60 votes by default—enough, that is, to override any filibuster. The filibuster has become a threat of its own, and an effective one, given . All the minority party in the Senate needs to do is lackadaisically point to the filibuster, perhaps with a yawn, and the Senate is transformed into a supermajority-dependent institution.

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With seven appeals court nominations (for an average of 100 days tomorrow) and eight other appointees including Cabinet positions awaiting a Senate vote, Reid resurrected a long-standing threat to remove the ability to filibuster nominations. The vote to make that change can't be filibustered, so, with 52 Democrats in the Senate plus two independents that caucus with the party, Reid appears to have enough to do so on a party-line vote.

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But is it a real threat? At the end of May,on a presumptive vote count for the procedural change. At that point, it seemed likely that the vote would be close, with Reid holding 51 votes, not all secure. We also pointed out that he only really needed 50—in the case of a tie, Vice President Joe Biden gets to vote. One assumes that, in order to get his boss' appointees in place, Biden would do so. But that May calculus was in May—before the threat seemed real, and before New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg died and was replaced with New Jersey Republican Jeff Chiesa.

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On Friday, The Atlantic Wire reached out to the offices of several senators who had initially expressed reservations about those moves. Staff for Sen. Carl Levin of Michiganto the move. A spokesperson for Sen. Max Baucus of Montana told us that he has not yet decided whether or not to support the move, but "believes it’s critical for any President to have their team in place to best serve the American people." The legislative director for Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who faces an uphill reelection campaign next year, said that the senator "thinks that all rules should primarily go through the Rules committee," but he's undecided on this week's vote. The office of Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island didn't respond to our outreach, buthe's likely to support Reid. (That report also suggests that Delaware's Tom Carper is similarly on the fence.)

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