Get ready for another big fight over the filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. took to the Senate floor on Thursday to announce a new push to overhaul filibuster rules to make it easier for President Obama and future presidents to fill out their own administration.
Reid accused Senate Republicans of contorting the confirmation process. He said the GOP had turned “advise and consent into deny and obstruct.”
“Presidents deserve the team members they want,” Reid said, arguing, “It doesn't matter who's elected” next, whether it's a Republican, such as Jeb Bush, or a Democrat, such as Joe Biden.
An angry Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, immediately took to the floor. He pointedly asked Reid to stay put to listen to his full response, saying Reid was threatening “one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of the institution.”
“If this isn’t a power grab, I don’t know what a power grab looks like,” McConnell said. He said that for Reid, “advise and consent means sit down and shut up.” McConnell warned that the Democratic majority “will live to regret” any filibuster changes to the procedure-obsessed institution.
“This Pandora’s box, once opened, will be utilized again and again by future majorities and make the meaningful consensus-building that has served our nation so well a relic -- a relic of the past,” McConnell said.
Reid appeared to be tailoring his push to change filibuster rules narrowly, demanding only up or down simple-majority votes for presidential nominations to the executive branch. He made no mention of judicial appointments, which would likely be even more explosive.
But the scope of the proposed changes did not matter to McConnell, who said Reid was about to “irreparably damage” the Senate.
The two Senate leaders sparred back and forth on the floor for more than an hour on Thursday, in what qualifies as a heated exchange by Senate standards. They addressed the near empty chambers, standing 10-feet apart, separated by the aisle that divides their two parties. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., looked on, as tourists shuffled in and out of the chambers.
Reid acknowledged that he had agreed at the beginning of the year not to tinker with filibuster rules, but said more than once on the floor Thursday that “an agreement is a two-way street” and that Republicans had not held up their end of the bargain.
Specifically, he complained that Republicans are holding up nominations not by objecting to the individuals themselves but the agencies they are nominated to lead – a reference to Richard Cordray and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Republicans are willing to block executive nominations even if they have no objections about the qualifications of the nominee,” Reid said.
In a sign of the campaign to come, Reid’s official Twitter account fired of a series of tweets during his first speech, each with the hashtag “#EndGridlock.”
Even before the debate had ended, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi came to the floor to try to play the role of potential peacemaker, asking Republicans and Democrats to skip their traditional partisan lunches next week and instead meet all together.
Reid said he was "happy to consider that," but then continued to press for confirmation of pending nominations.