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Reid appears to back away from 'nuclear option' on filibusters

With one of President Barack Obama’s key nominees on the verge of being confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to edge away Wednesday from an idea that some Democrats are calling for: enacting a change in Senate rules to stop filibusters which delay votes on Obama appointees.

During a debate on the Senate floor with Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, Reid said, "I'm not saying we're going to change the rules" regarding the filibuster, but argued that the Senate must move faster to confirm Obama nominees.

He accused Republicans of “slow-walking” nominees and bogging them down by submitting hundreds and, in one case, a thousand written questions to the nominee before the confirmation vote could occur.

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Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid speaks after a weekly Senate Democratic caucus meeting May 21, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

McConnell accused Reid of using the threat of a unilateral change in in Senate rules – the so-called “nuclear option” – to create “the majority’s own culture of intimidation right here in the Senate.”

The roles were reversed back in 2005 when the Republican majority, including McConnell, threatened to use the “nuclear option” to stop Democratic filibusters, supported by Reid at the time, of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

McConnell noted Wednesday that Republicans had agreed to an up-or-down vote on Obama’s nomination of Sri Srinivasan to serve on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with that vote to occur the Tuesday after the Senate returns from its one-week Memorial Day recess.

“Instead the majority leader chose to jam the minority,” McConnell complained, accusing the Democrats of “manufacturing a crisis to justify their heavy-handed behavior.”

Reid moved on Tuesday to limit debate on Srinivasan and have his confirmation vote Thursday.

McConnell called Srinivasan "a nominee we all agree on.... we like him" and argued that speeding up his nearly certain confirmation was Reid gratuitously using his power.

Srinivasan is crucial because so far in the four and a half years of his presidency, Obama has gotten no one confirmed to that court, which handles most legal challenges to regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies and serves as a major stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

In March, Republicans blocked a confirmation vote on another Obama nominee to that court, Caitlin Halligan.

 “You have a majority on that court that is wreaking havoc with the country,” Reid said, adding that with further GOP delays perhaps the judges on that court will issue more opinions in the next couple of weeks favorable to the Republicans – as that court did in January when it ruled that Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional since he had made them when there was no Senate recess.

Reid also reminisced Wednesday about the agreement that he and other Democrats had struck with Republicans in 2005 on confirming Bush’s judicial nominees, an agreement that was made under the threat of the Republicans using the nuclear option.

He said, “We agreed to put some people on the bench that we have regretted since then -- Janice Rogers Brown, Thomas Griffith, Brett Kavanaugh” – all of whom are judges now serving on the D.C. Circuit appeals court.

Awaiting Senate action after the Memorial Day recess are other nominees such as Thomas Perez to be labor secretary, Gina McCarthy to head the EPA, and five Obama nominees to serve on the National Labor Relations Board.

George Kohl, senior director for the Communications Workers of America, a labor union, said he didn’t interpret Reid’s comment Wednesday as him ruling out any future use of the nuclear option.

For the CWA, the NLRB nominees are crucial. “If they don’t get that (floor) vote in July, the Labor Board will cease to function on Aug. 27 when the chairman’s term expires. We think that’s a crisis for America.”

If McConnell doesn’t allow a vote on the NLRB nominees, “we think the rules (on ending debate) need to be changed” so the NLRB can protect workers’ right, Kohl said.

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