The Senate voted Thursday, 52-48, to end the filibuster rule for all executive and judicial appointments except for Supreme Court nominees, which would still need a 60-vote supermajority to end debate and move to a majority vote on confirmation. The move, dubbed the “nuclear option,” represents a historic power grab and a blow to the procedural prerogatives of the minority party in the Senate. All but three Democrats voted in favor.
In 2005, when Democrats had inaugurated the practice of filibustering large numbers of nominees, then-Minority Leader Read railed against the GOP majority for threatening the “nuclear option.” That crisis ended in an agreement, brokered by the bipartisan “Gang of 14,” which stated that nominees would only be filibustered in “extraordinary circumstances,” but that there would be no attempted rules changes in that Congress.
The reason for the strong Republican opposition to recent nominees by President Barack Obama has been the strong ideological bent of many nominees, plus the determination of the president to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by filling several vacancies. That court decides important regulatory cases and has an otherwise low caseload for its current roster of four Democrat- and four Republican-appointed judges.
Republicans have pointed out that the Democrats’ proposed changes could be renewed–and perhaps extended– when Democrats are once again in the minority, allowing the GOP to retaliate by nominating conservative candidates who might not otherwise survive a filibuster. In a political environment requiring both sides to work together to solve pressing issues, Reid and his party may come to regret the fallout.