Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., remained defiant Monday in his intent to change the rules of the Senate, saying that Republicans can avoid a showdown by backing off threats to block seven nominees slated for consideration.
After months of disagreement over how to proceed with confirmation votes for several Obama administration nominees, Reid is threatening to use a party-line vote to change Senate rules so that presidential nominees can be confirmed by a simple majority of senators in the future. All 100 senators were scheduled to meet Monday evening behind closed doors in the Old Senate Chamber in a last-ditch attempt to defuse tensions.
But if senators fail to reach a new agreement, Reid plans to hold a key test vote this morning on the nomination of Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board.
Reid moved ahead last week with plans to confirm Cordray, three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and President Obama’s picks to lead the Labor Department, U.S. Export-Import Bank and Environmental Protection Agency.
“These are good people,” Reid said, adding that Senate Republicans “don’t challenge their qualifications, they challenge their jobs.”
Reid spoke Monday morning before a friendly crowd at the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.
He noted in brief remarks that senators have changed the rules of their chamber by a majority vote 18 times in the past 36 years. Plans to change rules on nomination votes are no more drastic, Reid said, describing his proposal as a “minor change, no big deal.”
Reid noted that while the U.S. Constitution requires a “supermajority” of senators to override a presidential veto or to approve impeachment and international treaties, only a simple majority of senators are required to approve nominations.
“The Founding Fathers want an up or down vote, and that’s basically what we’ve been crying for now for years,” Reid said. “And I believe this whether it’s one of the new Bushes to be president — maybe Jeb — or maybe a new Clinton. Maybe Hillary, or maybe even the daughter. But whoever is president, they should have the ability to pick their team.”
“I love the Senate,” Reid said later, “but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed. It’s time for course correction.”
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama has grown increasingly frustrated with Senate delays over several of his Cabinet nominees.
“The Senate needs to confirm this president’s nominees in a timely and efficient manner,” Carney told reporters. “That is true and will be true for the next President and the next President after that. This has become ridiculous.”
Asked whether Obama supports Reid’s proposal to change Senate rules, Carney replied, “The president believes that the Senate ought to function and hopes that the Senate will figure out a way to ensure that the nomination process is appropriately streamlined. The president supports Harry Reid and he is appreciative of the support that Harry Reid has given to the president and his nominees and will give to the president and his nominees.”
Reid took several questions and was asked what Republicans could do to avoid a showdown with Democrats in the coming hours.
“If the sky’s falling, and they think it’s falling, let them stop the filibusters on the seven that I filed cloture on and we’d have up or down votes on these people and we’d go on to the business of the day. That seems pretty simple to me,” Reid said.
Asked whether there were any other rules he would like to change, perhaps to allow legislation to pass with a simple majority vote, Reid said, “Nothing right now. But remember, the Senate is an evolving body.”