Harry Reid Cracks Down in Floor Showdown With Mitch McConnell

Posted October 6, 2011 at 6:54pm

Updated: 9:05 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the hammer down against the GOP today, setting a new precedent that clamps down on procedural motions after cloture has been reached.

The Nevada Democrat warned that allowing unchecked motions to suspend the rules could lead to unending debate, even after 60 Senators have voted to invoke cloture. However, the presiding officer at the time, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), ruled that such motions are not dilatory — a term of art meaning that they are intended to delay. In a convoluted power play, Reid moved that the ruling of the chair be sustained — a simple-majority vote that he wanted to lose and did, 48-51.

The power move by Reid appeared similar to a proposed “nuclear option” of changing the rules with a simple majority, but would keep the filibuster and the 60-vote threshold.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that Reid was changing the precedents of the Senate simply to avoid voting on several motions to suspend the rules sought by the GOP.

A Democratic aide contended, however, that they had agreement with Republicans to vote on seven of the nine motions the GOP wanted, including the president’s jobs bill, only to have McConnell change which motions he wanted to offer.

A senior GOP aide disputed the Democrats’ account. “There was never any agreement,” the aide said. “If there was, we’d be done voting by now.”

A visibly upset McConnell said Reid was fundamentally turning the Senate into the House and was setting the precedent that the minority wouldn’t have a voice after 60 votes are invoked.

“Look, let’s don’t change this place,” McConnell said on the floor. “America doesn’t need less debate. It needs more debate. … I think we made a big mistake tonight. And as soon as we all kind of cool off and think about it over the weekend, I hope we’ll undo what we did tonight because it’s not in the best interest of this institution or the American people.”

Reid said that he still believes in the 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture and that he still disagrees with a Republican proposal from several years ago to do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations — the “nuclear option.” But he expressed frustration with endless filibusters from Republicans on a series of previously uncontroversial bills. “When I try to have an open amendment process, it is a road to nowhere,” he said.

He also complained that Republicans have increased attempts to add amendments after cloture has been invoked. “This has to come to an end. This is not a way to legislate,” he said.

Reid said he was prepared to accept amendments but couldn’t get consent from all Democrats to vote on some offered by the GOP, and he complained that McConnell’s gambit to force a vote on the jobs package effectively froze the amendment process.

But McConnell said the price of being in the majority is having to take bad votes, adding that the fundamental problem with the Senate is that Democrats aren’t willing to do so.

After the dispute and a rare, lengthy floor debate over the Senate’s dysfunction from Members of both parties, Reid suggested that the Senate return Tuesday for a final vote on the underlying Chinese currency legislation, as well as votes on the president’s jobs bill and pending free-trade agreements.

Senate Democratic leaders are scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden at 10:25 a.m. Friday in the Oval Office.