On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed back a vote to confirm Richard Cordray until July. President Obama recess appointed Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and needs to be permanently confirmed by the Senate. Senate GOP have blocked confirmation until serious reform of the over-arching new agency is undertaken. The delay in the vote suggests Reid is setting up a summer fight on eliminating the filibuster for Presidential nominations.
A Senate Democrat aide told The Huffington Post that the “plan is to wait until immigration is complete before engaging in total all-out nom[ination] fight.” A July fight over nominations would come, presumably, after immigration but before the budget battles expected this fall.
Reid’s plan is to change the Rules of the Senate to provide that judicial and Executive Branch nominations are approved by a simple majority vote. Senate Rules themselves can be changed by a simple majority, so Reid just needs 51 of his 55 caucus members to eliminate the filibuster.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell angrily denounced the potential move. “These continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the Majority’s own culture of intimidation here in the Senate,” McConnell said.
“Their view is that you had better confirm the people we want, when we want them, or we’ll break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so you can’t stop us. So much for respecting the rights of the minority. So much for a meaningful application of Advice and Consent.”
Reid has threatened the so-called “nuclear option” to eliminate the filibuster several times in the past. The issue has returned after a DC Circuit Court found Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional, as Congress was not in recess. The Court threw out all rulings made while these appointees served on the Board.
Cordray was appointed at the same time, casting doubt on whether actions taken by his agency under his direction would be legal.
While Reid certainly has the votes to make the change, exercising the “nuclear option” would be highly controversial and increase the animosity between the two parties in the Chamber.
Reid’s move would also establish a precedent, however. Future Republican Presidents would also be able to win approval of their nominees with a simply majority vote. Democrats may want to be careful what they wish for.