The Edge: A Filibuster Finale

The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.

A Filibuster Finale

George Washington famously described the Senate as the "saucer" that cools overheated legislation. But according to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republicans have turned the saucer into a freezer, and the Senate is so dysfunctional it may become "obsolete."

His Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell, says that by threatening profound changes to the filibuster rules if the GOP keeps blocking President Obama's nominees, Reid is on the verge of destroying the very qualities of the Senate that Washington and the other Founders wanted.

Who's right? It's a high-stakes battle, folks, and it may all be decided tonight.

All 100 senators have been asked to attend a meeting in the Old Senate Chamber, when Republicans must decide whether they'll accede to Reid's ultimatum—confirm seven nominees to avoid a rules change—and Reid himself must reveal whether he's bluffing or intends to go down as the man who changed how the Senate works, and not necessarily for the better.

True, it's not working well now. On the other hand Reid may come to regret permitting simple-majority votes for presidential nominees other than judges—and earlier than he thinks, if the GOP takes back the Senate next year.

Michael Hirsh


FILIBUSTER FIGHT AND POTENTIAL RULE CHANGES PUT BOTH PARTIES ON EDGE. Negotiations continue to fizzle in the Senate as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moves closer to invoking the "nuclear option" on Tuesday that would allow presidential nominees in the executive branch to be approved by a simple majority vote instead of a 60-vote supermajority, The New York Times reports. But members of both parties are wary that such a rule change will have a long-standing effect on how the Senate functions. Though Reid's proposed rule change is narrow, some Republicans are threatening to expand the scope of the rule change the next time they are in power. Reid said today he will back down from changing the rules if Republicans confirm seven presidential appointees they've been blocking. Read more

  • Changing the Senate rules may make relations between Democrats and Republicans so frosty it could derail efforts to raise the U.S. debt ceiling or pass an immigration law, Bloomberg reports. Read more

DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE GETS CHILLY RECEPTION IN EGYPT. Both the Islamist Al Nour party and the Tamarod group that protested Mohamed Morsi's presidency today declined invitations to meet with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Reuters reports. Burns is in Cairo as the first senior U.S. official to visit the country since the military ousted Morsi earlier this month. The State Department has declined to characterize Morsi's removal as a "coup," a classification that could halt $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt. Burns has had some success: He met with Adli Mansour, the interim president installed by the army, and interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi, and made clear that the U.S. is not taking sides in the country. Read more

PUTIN: SNOWDEN HAVING A CHANGE OF HEART ON LEAKING. Russian President Vladimir Putin said today that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is "shifting his position" on leaking information about secret U.S. surveillance programs, Reuters reports. Putin cautioned that the Snowden situation remains unresolved, adding that he did not know what Snowden's future holds: "How do I know? It's his life, his fate." The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, the journalist working with Snowden to publish classified documents, said the fugitive possesses potentially harmful "blueprints" on how the NSA operates, but does not want to publish them for fear of harming the U.S. government. Read more

  • Snowden's continuing quest for asylum is aggravating already strained relations between the U.S. and several Latin American countries, the Associated Press reports. Read more

GOP CHANCES OF RETAKING SENATE IMPROVE, SLIGHTLY. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's announcement over the weekend that he will not run for the state's open Senate seat helps make a Republican-controlled Senate in 2014 a more realistic—albeit still unlikely—possibility, The New Republic's Nate Cohn writes. The GOP would need to pick up six seats to reach 51 and claim the majority, and while that road remains tough two open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia should be probable Republican pickups. Before the weekend, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina looked like the next best bets—but with Montana in play now the GOP would only need either Alaska or North Carolina and not both, making chances of a 2014 Republican Senate less remote. Read more

  • New data from the Brookings Institution show the last session of the House of Representatives, from 2011 to 2012, was the most conservative in more than 60 years, National Journal's Niraj Chokshi writes. Read more

OBAMAS, BUSHES BESTOW VOLUNTEERISM AWARD. President Obama and former President George H.W. Bush and their families honored an Iowa family at the White House today for helping to deliver free meals to hungry children around the world, The Washington Post reports. Bush was in town to celebrate Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, who received the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award, which Bush established in 1989 to recognize volunteerism. "Today, we are extraordinarily honored to be joined by the family that helped build the Points of Light Foundation into the world's largest organization dedicated to volunteer service," Obama said. Bush thanked the Obamas for their "wonderful hospitality" and said being at the White House was "like coming home." Read more

COMMERCE DEPARTMENT TOOK $3M HIT FOR CYBERATTACK FALSE ALARM. The Commerce Department unnecessarily spent $3 million attempting to thwart a cyberattack that was nothing more than a common computer virus found on six of its computers, The Washington Post reports. An inspector general found that the department grossly overreacted to a supposed attack on the Economic Development Administration, finding "no evidence to suggest that EDA's primary business application had been targeted by a cyberattack or maliciously altered." The false alarm also forced 200 federal employees to spend months without e-mail or access to Internet servers. Read more

THE MYTH OF MARCO RUBIO'S IMMIGRATION PROBLEM. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is losing altitude with some conservatives because he's the Republican face of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, National Journal's Jill Lawrence reports. Yet he'll have a lot of company in the 2016 field if he runs for the GOP presidential nomination. In fact almost every Republican weighing a 2016 race—from Jeb Bush and Chris Christie to Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal—favors some path to citizenship like the one in the comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate, or is open to a variation of it. Read more

BY CHANGING TACTICS, ANTIABORTION MOVEMENT SEIZES MOMENTUM. Abortion opponents have turned to different tactics since the Supreme Court legalized most abortions half a century ago, from imposing 24-hour waiting periods to banning late-term procedures to requiring minors to get permission, National Journal's Beth Reinhard reports. But in the wake of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted in May of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies, the antiabortion movement has increasingly aimed its fire at the brick-and-mortar clinic. On Friday, Texas became the 16th state to tighten regulations on abortion clinics in the past three years, more than doubling the number of states with what opponents call "targeted restrictions on abortion providers." Read more

  • Largely thanks to small donors who sent her money after her famous filibuster, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis raised nearly $1 million in the last two weeks of June, The Texas Tribune reports. Read more

DOJ PRESSURED TO BRING CIVIL RIGHTS CHARGES AGAINST ZIMMERMAN. Two White House petitions circulating in the wake of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin are urging Attorney General Eric Holder to pursue civil-rights charges against Zimmerman, The Hill reports. Saturday's not guilty verdict prompted responses from several high-profile civil-rights advocates, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who condemned the ruling as justifying the racial profiling of young black males. Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke out against the ruling, calling for a nationwide day of protest on Saturday to further press the Justice Department to levy a civil-rights case against Zimmerman. The petitions must reach 100,000 signatures to trigger a White House response, though DOJ said Sunday that it is already reviewing the case. Read more

  • State prosecutors had a difficult time mounting their case against Zimmerman, and a federal case may be even harder to develop, the Associated Press reports. Read more


MARKEY JOINS THE SENATE. Vice President Joe Biden will officiate over the swearing-in of Sen.-elect Edward Markey, D-Mass., at 10 a.m. on the Senate floor.

SENATE PANEL TO WEIGH EMBASSY SECURITY BILL. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act of 2013. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High-Threat Posts Bill Miller are scheduled to testify.


"Our approval rating is lower than North Korea's." -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on why triggering the "nuclear option" is justifiable (The Hill)


NSA CHIEF'S PUSH FOR INFORMATION DRAWS MIXED RESPONSE. With the National Security Agency in the spotlight since former contractor Edward Snowden leaked information on its data collection programs, The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick profile Gen. Keith Alexander, the agency's director, describing him as a long-recognized "apostle for harnessing technology's awesome power in the service of national security." (Alexander has also led the U.S. Cyber Command since 2010.) Alexander's drive to collect information—and the level of influence afforded him by his dual roles—have drawn criticism from some lawmakers, former government employees, and civil rights groups. One former NSA employee said Alexander "is absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible." Read more


SHOWCASING THE STARTUP ECONOMY. Infographics website Visually has created "The Startup Universe," a graphical representation of the distribution of startup companies across a variety of fields, with information on the firms' founders, their funding, and the venture capitalists that back them. See it here


AS SEEN ON TV.BuzzFeed offers a list of 14 "Facts About Cable News That May Make You Question Reality," including MSNBC host Rachel Maddow's past as a blonde, conservative commentator Ann Coulter's fondness for MSNBC host Chris Hayes, and Rep. Michele Bachmann's past as Fox News host Gretchen Carlson's babysitter. See it here


Subscribe to The EdgeSee The Edge Archive