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Reid, Alexander Spar as ‘Nuclear’ Fallout Begins to Take Shape

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

The Senate saw the first serious fallout from the Democrats’ use of the “nuclear option” Monday evening, with Majority Leader Harry Reid moving to limit debate on 10 mainly midlevel executive and judicial nominations.

The cloture motions on nominations range from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to district judges to President Barack Obama’s choice of Jeh Johnson to be Homeland Security secretary.

That’s on top of the previously failed cloture votes on the nominations of Nina Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins to be federal appellate judges in the District of Columbia, as well as the nomination of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to helm the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The Nevada Democrat may move to reconsider those votes at times of his choosing. A special election in North Carolina is also waiting on Watt’s confirmation.

The procedural moves came after Reid sought unanimous consent to confirm a slew of nominations in both the judicial and executive branches, facing an objection from Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, a senator who had helped lead previous bipartisan efforts to avert a procedural standoff.

Alexander said on the floor Monday that before Reid and the Democrats voted to establish a new precedent allowing simple-majority cloture for nominations, the GOP was prepared to confirm an assortment of nominees, as is customary just before a recess.

“The Republicans were ready to confirm more than 40 who had been there just a few weeks, and the Democratic majority changed the rules of the Senate in a way that creates a Senate without rules, and so until I understand better how a United States senator is supposed to operate in a Senate without rules, I object,” Alexander said.

Alexander also reiterated a previous argument of many Republicans, arguing the seats on the D.C. appeals court that were key to the move to change the rules shouldn’t be filled because of caseload. Those circuit seats will ultimately be held by Pillard, Wilkins and Patricia Ann Millett (who is on track for confirmation Tuesday after a weather delay).

“That explanation is as flat as a bottle of beer that’s been open for six months,” Reid said of Alexander’s argument.

The four district judges on the list of 10 nominees on whom Reid filed cloture Monday will have particularly expedited debate time, under new procedures adopted in January. Cloture motions ripen automatically in the order filed.

“Because we changed the rules at the majority leader’s request to make it easier to confirm district judges, there’s only in effect one hour of debate on each district judge,” Alexander said, explaining that Democrats could opt to yield their time back.

Alexander argued later that only picking four of the district judges amounted to an attempt to “manufacture a crisis.”

Reid criticized the wholesale objection, though it wasn’t clear Monday evening how coordinated of a retaliatory effort Alexander’s move was.

“The truth is that the Senate’s gotten out of whack,” Reid said. “If there was a controversy with one of these judges, then you could have some reason to stall it. In year’s past, we’ve just done it by unanimous consent. Now, I think it’s unfortunate that the Senate has come to that, but that’s where we are.”

“This is a game that Republicans have played to do everything they can to make Obama a failed president, and they are not doing that,” Reid added.

Alexander gave a lengthy presentation about the Senate’s consideration of nominations that ran long after Reid had left the floor, closing with a campaign pitch.

“I know of only one cure for this dangerous trend … and that is one word: an election,” Alexander said. “The election of six new Republican senators, so that power plays like Obamacare and the Nov. 21 rules change will be ended, and the Senate will again be alive with bills, amendments and debates reflecting the will of the American people on the important issues of our time.”

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