A Senate rule change championed by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid could leave Democrats powerless to stop any of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments.
In 2013, Sen. Reid and other Democrats pushed forward with a rule change dubbed the “nuclear option” to eliminate filibusters for all presidential nominations except Supreme Court justices. This means that a simple majority of 51 votes instead of 60 votes is necessary to confirm executive office appointments.
The Republicans are set to enter 2017 with at least 51 senators and can gain another seat with a likely win in the December Senate run-off race in Louisiana.
So while Democratic National Committee interim chairwoman Donna Brazile has called for the Senate to reject Trump’s nomination of Republican Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Trump’s cabinet will get confirmed as long as Republicans vote along party lines.
Many Democrats have publicly displayed a lack of regret for the rule change.
Sen. Reid’s spokeswoman Kristen Orthman told The Washington Post, “Sen. Reid has no regrets on invoking the nuclear option because of Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction.” She added, “If Republicans want to go on record supporting radicals, that’s their decision and they will have to live with it.”
“I have absolutely no regret,” Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who pushed for the nuclear option, told CNN. Incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer opposed the 2013 rule change and told The Washington Post, “I wanted 60 for Supreme Court and Cabinet, but I didn’t prevail.”
In 2013, Republican senators said the rule change would not benefit the Democrats long-term.
“Democrats won’t be in power in perpetuity. This is a mistake — a big one for the long run. Maybe not for the short run. Short-term gains, but I think it changes the Senate tremendously in a bad way,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said at the time.
Outgoing (thank goodness) Harry Reid set this in motion to rush through O’s appointments with little to no objections from the Rs, primarily his nomination of Chuck Hagel as the secretary of defense. Now that the Rs will have the majority in the Senate, they could use this to their advantage.
But. Before we go getting all self-assured and cocky, we have to remember that mealy-mouthed Mitch McConnell will be the one in charge of things. As I recall, after Reid did this, when asked if he’d use that option, McConnell said ‘it’s not likely’, so it’s questionable as to whether or not he would go that route.
But. There’s this – back in May when it became pretty clear that Trump would get the nomination, McConnell said that he had his full support. The question is did McConnell support him as the R’s candidate, thinking that Hillary would win and it wouldn’t matter, or does he still support him as the incoming president?
It looks like we’re about to find out. In January when things get rolling, McConnell will have his chance to show the extent of his support.