When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor Thursday, reporters were abuzz about him bringing up the “nuclear option”—getting rid of fillibusters for judicial or executive nominees, except for Supreme Court nominees. But when he got to the floor, he started talking about an entirely more literal nuclear option; specifically, tightening sanctions on Iran. “We must do everything possible to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability,” he said.
After finishing, reporters put down their phones in disappointment, but Reid was back on the floor a few minutes later to bring up filibuster reform. “We’ve wasted an unprecedented amount of time on procedural obstruction,” he said. “It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.” He pointed out that Republicans have rejected four out of five of President Obama’s nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court, while Democrats only rejected two of George W. Bush’s six nominees.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t going to let that stand pat. He rose to the mic and delivered Republicans’ core argument: This is a distraction from Obamacare! “Obamacare was forced on the public by the administration,” McConnell began, then accused Democrats of cooking up “some fake fight over judges.”
Of course, Reid is not an altogether innocent player. As McConnell readily pointed out, Democrats “pioneered” the practice of filibustering circuit court nomineees during the Bush administration. It wasn’t a “fake fight” for McConnell back then—he was a staunch opponent of judicial filibusters when they were aimed at Republican nominees. Here’s McConnell in 2005 arguing against the filibuster: “My Democratic colleagues want to change the rules.” And McConnell in 2013, arguing to keep the filibuster in place: “They want to change the rules of the game.”
So today, filibuster reform continues to be stymied by the same flexible morals of party loyalty that it’s supposed to prevent. Weirdly, just as I was typing that the Republican argument for keeping the filibuster in place amounts to “They started it,” McConnell literally said, “They started it.”