Washington (CNN) – Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s message to current Leader Harry Reid could be boiled down to this: I know how you feel, but trust me, you are going to regret this.
Lott watched Thursday as Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” by voting to change filibuster rules and made it easier for them to approve President Barack Obama’s judicial appointments that Republicans have blocked.
Why does Lott know from experience that Reid will regret this? Because he has “been there” and “knows how it feels.”
Lott is widely considered the man who coined the term “nuclear option” when he said a similar 2003 plan was “nuclear.”
“It was mistake when we were talking about doing it,” Lott told CNN shortly after Thursday’s senate vote. “I still believe the Senate is a unique institution and the rules – no matter how cumbersome and difficult – are better than just making it another House of Representatives.”
In 2003, Republicans were frustrated that Democrats were continually blocking judicial nominations by then-President George W. Bush. Out of that frustration, Lott devised a plan that allowed Republicans to confirm judicial appointments with a simple 51-vote majority – not the standard 60 votes threshold needed to break a filibuster.
Lott, who now prefers to call his plan the “constitutional option,” said it didn't take him long to believe it was an error to even pursue the plan.
“Pretty quickly, I concluded I made a mistake,” he said. “It was natural for us to do it because we were mad about them filibustering district and circuit court judges. I was irate about it. But it can come back to bite you and they [the Democrats] are going to regret this."
Lott’s point is one that many Republicans have made: While these moves may seem desirable when you are in the majority, those fortunes can shift with one election and Democrats could quickly find themselves with less power in the minority.
Or as the former Republican leader put it: "Once you let the cat out of the bag, he is out."