With Democratic leaders incensed by what they call unfair blocking of executive branch nominees, Senate Majority Harry Reid is urging his colleagues to change Senate rules to prohibit the chamber from filibustering some of the president's picks.
Reid's proposal would make the threshold for confirming agency and Cabinet nominees -- but not judges or legislation -- a simple majority rather than the 60 votes required now. He's expected to meet with Senate Democrats today to talk over the idea, which he could try to enact with a simple majority vote.
In an unusually personal back-and-forth on the Senate floor, Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued bitterly about the consequences of changing the threshold, with both accusing the other of going back on previous commitments to respect Senate rules.
'It is a disturbing trend when Republicans are willing to block executive brand nominees even if they have no objection about the qualification of the nominee," Reid said. 'They're blocking qualified nominees because they refuse to accept the law of the land."
McConnell, pointing out that Reid objected to some changes in filibuster rules when Democrats did not hold the majority in the Senate, said such a change would be inscribed on Reid's "tombstone."
"I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts," McConnell said.
The fight centers on nominations to the National Labor Relations Board -- they've been pending in some cases for years -- as well as appointees to head the Labor Department, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The NLRB nominations have been pending so long that President Obama used so-called recess appointments -- appointing board members while the Senate was out of session -- to allow the board to function. Republicans argue that's illegal, and the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether making such appointments is constitutional.