Nuclear option out if they play nice


April 12, 2017

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to trigger a partial nuclear option in 2013. He said the unprecedented move was necessary to fix a broken system.

While Republicans bemoaned the fact that Reid’s actions were an exercise in raw power, Reid was playing a long game. He had just placed his party in a classic win-win situation.

Although Republicans vowed to reciprocate when they reclaimed the majority, Reid knew they had never filibustered any judicial nominee who could win a majority vote and had confirmed both Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, two Clinton nominees overwhelmingly.

When Republican Sen. Bill Frist broached the nuclear option — a parliamentary prodecure that allows override of precedent by a simple majority — in January 2005, six Republican senators signaled they would either not support a change in the rules or had problems with the proposal and might vote “nay.” Frist never pulled the trigger. Reid also knew this history.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia in February 2016 and the nomination of Merrick Garland to replace him brought surprisingly strong opposition from Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader. McConnell announced the Senate would not consider the nomination based on the so-called Biden Rule from a speech in 1992.

Biden stated, “It would be our pragmatic conclusion that once the political season is underway, and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”

In spite of tremendous pressure from all sides, McConnell held firm and Garland was never brought up for confirmation. At the time, this decision was not particularly unsettling for Democrats because Hillary Clinton was guaranteed by every major media organization to be a landslide winner in the coming election and Democrats might take back the Senate. Clinton would then nominate a hard left nominee to replace Scalia and the Republicans would rue the day they did not confirm Garland.

Reid’s plan was working to perfection. Even if they held the Senate, Republicans would never filibuster a presidential nominee for the Supreme Court.

Then Trump won the election. And Republicans held the Senate. And Trump nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. And pandemonium reigned in Washington.

In spite of the obvious, Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer continued to claim that Democrats opposed Gorsuch for judicial, not political, reasons. If only Trump and Republicans would come together with Democrats to choose a nominee, there would be no need for the nuclear option.

The newest member of SCOTUS is Neil Gorsuch. To paraphrase the Larry Gatlin song lyric, “It don't matter at all where you played before, this looks like a brand new game.”

Rube Render is the Curry County Republican chairman. Contact him at: rube.[email protected]


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