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Reid, McConnell Take ‘Nuclear Option’ Showdown to NBC

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Democratic and Republican Senate leaders took their debate over rules and procedures beyond their usual C-SPAN audience, appearing back-to-back on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

“Our approval rating is lower than North Korea’s,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in response to a first question about why he wants to use the so-called nuclear option to get rid of filibusters of executive branch nominees.

Since Thursday, Reid’s been speaking openly about his plans to change the rules to end filibusters for executive branch nominees. He reiterated to moderator David Gregory that his plan doesn’t apply to legislation or lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary.

“Whoever is president should be able to have the people on their team that they want,” Reid said.

“The changes we are making are very, very minimal. What we’re doing is saying, ‘Look American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?'” Reid said. “We’re going to make this simple change.”

Reid has been citing statistics showing that the Senate’s made technically similar moves 18 times over the past few decades to change Senate precedent with a simple majority vote, as happened in 2011. Of course, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., disagreed with that comparison.

“We’re wondering why this threat to blow the Senate up when the president’s getting his nominees,” McConnell asked rhetorically. He restated the argument from recent days that there are really only three pending executive branch nominees that couldn’t get confirmed — those holding disputed recess appointments.

He was asked about the possibility of a battle over President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security. In a Senate where executive branch nominees can’t be filibustered, Obama may have more latitude in making a nomination that would get confirmed.

“Guys in your line of work tend to use the word ‘fight’ when we’re having a debate. Some of the president’s nominees have been quite controversial. I mean, that’s what we do in the Senate. We have big debates over big issues,” McConnell said. “I can’t guarantee you there won’t be a spirited debate.”

Reid said there was no comparison between the current proposal and the 2005 proposal by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to make a technically similar change in procedure to allow judges to be confirmed with a simple majority vote.

The appearances on the NBC Sunday morning interview program serve as a prelude of sorts for the standoff coming to a head in the coming week. Senators from both parties will meet behind closed doors in the old Senate chamber Monday evening in what seems like a last ditch effort to avoid the floor standoff.

“We need to start talking to each other instead of at each other,” McConnell said, advocating for a sort of reprise of the “gang of 14” agreement that prevented Frist from moving forward with the nuclear option back in 2005.

In typical Sunday morning talk show fashion, Gregory threw old quotes back at both of the leaders from when the roles were reversed during and after the 2005 standoff. McConnell, for instance, was asked to respond to a sound bite in which he supported a similar maneuver to what Reid’s contemplating with 51 votes.

“Look, I’m glad we didn’t do it,” McConnell responded. “We have an opportunity to pull back from the brink.”

But, in a reminder of how the news cycle works, Reid and McConnell had to wait until after Gregory discussed Saturday evening’s not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial.

“I don’t always agree with what the jury does, but that’s the system,” Reid said, asked about the case. “I’ll accept the verdict.”

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