Senators fail to reach ‘nuclear option’ deal, but some hopeful as deadline nears
July 15th, 2013
10:29 PM ET
9 years ago

Senators fail to reach ‘nuclear option’ deal, but some hopeful as deadline nears

Washington (CNN) - In a rare, private meeting with nearly all 100 senators Monday night, the upper chamber failed to come up with a deal to avert the so-called nuclear option—a partisan threat by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would eliminate filibusters for executive-branch nominees.

But after the nearly four-hour meeting, senators said Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to keep talking before a Tuesday deadline.

“The night is late,” Reid told reporters, not long before 10 p.m. ET. “We've had a very good conversation. That conversation is going to continue tonight.”

Senators left Capitol Hill with a sense that a solution would be found soon, before the Senate votes Tuesday morning to proceed with two Cabinet member nominees and five appointees to agency posts. Republicans have stalled the confirmation process for months.

"I think this will come to a head tomorrow. It was a very, very good discussion,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas. “I think this was a good step."

While Democrats control the Senate, they don't have the 60 votes necessary to break a GOP-led filibuster. Reid would use the “nuclear option” to change the rules in order to prevent filibusters of executive branch nominations, allowing them to be confirmed on a simple majority vote of 51.

The Nevada Democrat has been warning Republicans that if they continue blocking some of Obama's Cabinet and agency picks, he will make the drastic move without their consent. Such a move would bring sharp opposition from Republicans, who have threatened to block other legislation as a consequence.

As they exited the Old Senate Chamber, senators said a large chunk of their colleagues spoke at Monday night’s meeting, which was held in the iconic Old Senate Chamber at the request of Republicans.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, said there was a lot of “angst” in the room but described the meeting as “the most bipartisan discussion we’ve had in a long time."

According to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, the relations between Reid and McConnell were “very good.”

“They spent most of the time listening,” he added. While no deal was reached Monday night, the five-term senator said “there is a better understanding.”

“I felt like people were far closer together the further we went along,” Rockefeller said.

McDonnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said in a statement that “a clear bipartisan majority in the meeting believed the Leaders ought to find a solution. And discussions will continue.”

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Nebraska, also said the mood remained “good.”

“We're all adults and professionals,” he said.

Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Bob Corker of Tennessee also said there was a willingness to let the leaders hunker down and resolve the issue. Asked if it was possible to avoid the nuclear option, Cornyn said, “I think it is. I think we’re in a little bit better position than we were before.”

Not everyone felt encouraged Monday night, however. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said he didn’t “feel very good” about the gathering.

"I'm glad we had the meeting, I appreciated it. But there are too many senators who don't understand the danger of the precedent of a Senate that could change the majority anytime it wants to, to do anything it wants to,” he said. “Imagine what we Republicans would do in a year-and-a-half if we were in the majority."

At issue is a disagreement over three of the nominees–two for the National Labor Relations Board and one to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They were tainted in the minds of Republicans because they originally had been nominated as "recess appointments" by Obama – even though senators said they were in session.

Republicans have remained steadfast against confirming them until the Supreme Court decides if the recess appointments were constitutional, something the high court is considering.

Reid and Sen. John McCain engaged in quiet negotiations over the weekend and got close to averting the nuclear option but failed to seal the deal, sources in both parties told CNN.

If Democrats proceed with the nuclear option, Republicans will protest the change by slamming the brakes on other action in the Senate, according to current and former senior Senate aides from both parties.

McCain told Reid he found the six Republican senators needed to join Democrats in breaking filibusters of the nominations, giving Democrats a key part of what they want: approval of Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In exchange, the president would have to agree to withdraw the two NLRB recess nominees: Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. The NLRB, which hears and rules on labor disputes, is one of the most politically polarized institutions in Washington.

But Reid told McCain he couldn't go along with the idea because they could not find replacements willing to go through what will surely be a politically rough nomination for an NLRB term that would be up in 2014, according to sources in both parties.

Should the Senate go ahead with the nuclear option, the poisoned atmosphere could stall passage of several important items moving through Congress like tax reform, judicial nominations, government spending bills and a debt ceiling increase. Even a relatively modest rewrite of student loan laws could be in jeopardy, meaning students headed to school this fall would have to pay higher interest rates.

But Democrats say the pain will only be temporary.

A top Democratic aide said, "The immediate aftermath will be messy. The GOP will shut down the Senate and they will keep it locked down until there are tangible impacts from inaction. Only then, when people start to realize that their lawmakers are not working on the farm bill, immigration, budget and other issues, will they pick up the phone and call their lawmakers."

While the measure would only apply to executive branch nominees, Republicans argue Democrats would try to expand the option to other votes.

Reid said the change he is proposing is "very minimal," applying only to Cabinet and executive branch positions.

"This is not judges, this is not legislation - this has allowing the people of America to have a president who can have his team in place," Reid said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "This is nothing like what went on" in 2005.

Appearing later on the same program, McConnell seemed to tamp down some of the spite. Three days after saying Reid would be remembered as the worst Senate leader ever, McConnell said Reid was "a reasonable man, he's a good majority leader."

- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Filed under: Senate
soundoff (52 Responses)
  1. Michael Benjamin

    “We're all adults and professionals,” according to Johanns. So why aren't they behaving that way?

    What Republicans fail to understand is Reid has the majority. He doesn't need to negotiate with them.

    July 16, 2013 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  2. Robert

    I declare the Congress of the United States of America to be illegitimate, and hereby appoint myself to all seats.

    July 16, 2013 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  3. kww355

    "Such a move would bring sharp opposition from Republicans, who have threatened to block other legislation as a consequence."
    How could anyone write that statement with a straight face ? They routinely block EVERYTHING !

    July 16, 2013 01:37 am at 1:37 am |
  4. Maddiecait

    Either they work together and solve the problems or they need to find new jobs.

    July 16, 2013 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  5. loops808

    Reid is a hypocrite. He opposed the exact same action in 2005. I wonder how we will feel about the rule change next time a Republican is in the President's office knowing that he changed the rules?

    July 16, 2013 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  6. Thomas

    Did GW Bush have this problem ?

    Three days after saying Reid would be remembered as the worst Senate leader ever, McConnell said Reid was "a reasonable man, he's a good majority leader."

    Republican Leader Mitch McConnell , the guy who sold us out to China .

    July 16, 2013 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  7. dannyC

    Keep in mind it was McConnell who shortly after Obama was elected in 2012 said "It is the number one priority for all Republicans to assure Barack Obama is a one term President.". This was in the midst of the economy teetering into depression and the U.S. was in TWO WARS at the time.
    The most important thing WASN'T keeping people from losing their homes, or supporting our troops, or doing the work of the AMERICAN PEOPLE, it was getting his party back into the White House.
    If you support McConnell, you don't support Democracy. You support the manipulation of Democracy for the purpose of undermining it.

    July 16, 2013 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  8. nunya

    The 'nuclear option' was a stupid plan when the Republicans were threatening it, and it's just as stupid now that the Democrats are threatening it. It doesn't matter whether they are proposing it for a particular subset or for across the board – it's a bad idea.

    July 16, 2013 02:30 am at 2:30 am |
  9. Terry

    Pretty funny threatening to block any future legislation if Reid follows through on his threat to the Nuclear option. Blocking all legislation already occurs by the GOP. The GOP would be hilarious in their banal inanities except for the fact that they scare the hell out of me.

    July 16, 2013 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  10. Gimmemore

    How's this for legislation – time to vote for term limits!

    July 16, 2013 03:09 am at 3:09 am |
  11. Grant

    I would be fantastic if some Republicans would cross the aisle and prevent the filibusters of some of Obama's nominees. Using the so-called "nuclear option" sets a dangerous precedent. I can just envision it eventually being extended to judges, and later down the road being used at the end of a president's term to stack the courts (midnight judges). Filibuster exists for a reason, and is there to slow things down when there's abuse of power. Doing away with it, even in just executive appointments, is not a good thing.

    July 16, 2013 03:46 am at 3:46 am |
  12. Greenspam

    A complete waste of time. Let Obama have his cabinet members. If Obama fails, vote him out of office. What BS is this

    July 16, 2013 03:54 am at 3:54 am |
  13. Lizard Lance

    No matter what Obama supports, the Republicans will oppose it. If Obama were suddenly anti-abortion, every last Republican in the Senate and House would become pro-choice. No matter what Obama does, he's going to run into a Republican road block.

    July 16, 2013 04:26 am at 4:26 am |
  14. John

    “We're all adults and professionals,” he said.

    That is debatable. The fact is it SHOULD take a simple majority (51) to confirm executive-branch nominees. Not legal like judges, that needs a higher threshhold, but certainly exec branch. These positions have already been created and funded by Congress, so it is NOT adult and professional to prevent their functioning by the trick of not allowing people to be appointed to them. Each job already has its defined purpose and powers approved, and no-one could expand beyond those purpose and powers, so let those jobs be done!

    July 16, 2013 04:56 am at 4:56 am |
  15. JIMM

    There is nothing radical or controversial about any of these nominees. If there was I could see the need to filibuster.

    July 16, 2013 05:18 am at 5:18 am |
  16. Chris

    Let me get this straight. The Republican Party has shattered all records for forcing cloture votes, stonewalling every important piece of legislation, blocking judgeships from being filled, forcing executive positions to sit vacant, fighting at every turn to defund or overturn the Democrats' accomplishments, blocking cabinet appointees for the first time in history, refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn so that Obama can't make recess appointments, taking recess appointments to court whenever they do slip through...

    ...but if the Democrats change the filibuster rules, No More Mister Nice Guy!?

    July 16, 2013 05:50 am at 5:50 am |
  17. ghost

    Why is Reid still talking. The NUC should have been fired. Do your job Reid.

    July 16, 2013 06:01 am at 6:01 am |
  18. Reckless

    I hope that the GOP doesn't think "slamming the brakes" on immigration reform will be a punishment for anyone but the themselves. But it does seem like they enjoy shooting themselves in the foot lately. Ever since the election they've been running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

    July 16, 2013 06:15 am at 6:15 am |
  19. Knucklehead

    “We're all adults and professionals,” ..... they've certainly proved that one...

    “Imagine what we Republicans would do in a year-and-a-half if we were in the majority." That truly is scary.

    July 16, 2013 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  20. DPB

    Stand up to Reid...if is really pulls this...let him...what goes around will come around and the liberals will be crying their little eyes out when the conservatives take over the house by 51 votes one day and yes my friends it will happen...maybe if you would get out a history book and stop listening to CNN you would remember a time in which the stories were the democrats were done for and out of touch with America...this event will swing one day...

    So my answer to Reid...Go for it big boy...let's make those big boy decisions...

    July 16, 2013 06:42 am at 6:42 am |
  21. Michael

    So the GOP is threatening to block legislation if they don't get their way? And that is different than what they've been doing the past 3+ years how? Too bad they can discuss procedures but they can't do squat for the Middle Class, the Poor, the Unemployed. But the lobbyists and 1% are taken care of ... Hypocrites. All of them, on both sides of the isle.

    July 16, 2013 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  22. wgf

    “We're all adults and professionals,”

    - There is little evidence to support either conclusion.

    "If Democrats proceed with the nuclear option, Republicans will protest the change by slamming the brakes on other action in the Senate, "

    - First, will we even notice the difference ? Second, doesn't this just reinforce Reid's point that the GOP's only interest is one of obstruction ?

    July 16, 2013 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  23. Marc

    "We're all adults and professionals"........ROTFLMAO......Prove it. Get something (anything) done! Leeches!

    July 16, 2013 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  24. People are Out Of Touch with reality

    Its such a shame that an elected official such as Reid is even still in office. He does no good for the American people and his threats are starting to cause more problems. The joke is in the name Reid, maybe if he tried to WORK for the American people this country would grow, but NO he is more worried about being a dictator and lining his pockets rather than support this country. People need to wake up and see how destructive Reid is.

    July 16, 2013 07:02 am at 7:02 am |
  25. Gurgyl

    Before you tell others–you do it, prove you are a good apple...

    July 16, 2013 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
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