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Reid signals delay in potential fight over Senate rules change

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated Thursday that he may postpone a confrontation with Republicans over stalled nominations until after the Senate considers the bipartisan immigration bill that the Judiciary Committee OK’d Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid compares recent delays to Obama cabinet confirmations to a baseball team that is missing its stars.

“I am not going to do anything to interfere with the immigration bill,” he said.

At issue was the so-called “nuclear option,” a possible move by Reid and the Democrats to unilaterally curb filibusters by a simple majority vote, instead of by 67 votes as required by Senate rules.

Reid charged at a press conference Thursday that Republican foot-dragging had delayed or blocked confirmation of several key Obama nominees, with Republican senators submitting more than 1,100 written questions to Gina McCarthy, Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

McCarthy, Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez, consumer financial watchdog Richard Cordray,  and five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board are awaiting confirmation.

“Presidents need to have the team they want when they want them – and this is not working” Reid said told reporters. “It is time for this gridlock to end – that is my message.” He added, “There are no threats – we simply want the Senate to work the way that it should.” 

He added later, “We’re not threatening anybody with anything.”

But Sen. Charles Schumer, D- N.Y. argued that “the public would be happy to hear that the Senate is changing the way it is doing business. So the other side (the Republicans) must be careful – if they think they can win a debate over whether the Senate should change its rules, they might very well be mistaken.”

In a big victory for Obama, the Senate unanimously voted Thursday to confirm Sri Srinivasan to serve on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R- Ky. indicated Wednesday that Republicans supported Srinivasan, a lawyer who has served in the Solicitor General’s office in both the Bush and Obama administrations, calling him "a nominee we all agree on.... We like him."

Discussing Srinivasan, Schumer smiled as he said to reporters, “We may be seeing him coming before the Senate again soon,” – a reference to speculation that Obama might nominate Srinivasan to the Supreme Court if a vacancy occurs. 

But looming in the weeks ahead is a potentially incendiary standoff over what many Democrats are urging: a change in Senate rules to end filibusters of nominees.

In 2005, Senate Republicans threatened to use the “nuclear option” after Democrats blocked votes on nominees to the federal courts by President George W. Bush. The roles were reversed in 2005 with Democrats supporting filibusters of nominee and Republicans accusing them of obstructionism. Eventually the two sides settled their dispute and allowed several Bush nominees to be confirmed to the federal bench.

Reid reminisced Wednesday about the agreement that Democrats had struck with Republicans on confirming those nominees. 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.

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