Reid said McConnell could not be trusted to keep his word to move executive branch nominations through the Senate.
“I refuse to unilaterally surrender my right to respond to this breach of faith,” Reid said of McConnell. “I wait, I wait, but I’m not going to wait another month, another few weeks, another year for Congress to take action on the things that we have been doing for 200 and almost 40 years.”
The verbal firefight followed Reid’s announcement that he would set in motion a process to change the Senate’s rules to make it easier to vote on Obama administration nominees that have been blocked by GOP filibusters.
Reid said he planned to use a party-line vote to change the Senate’s rules so that nominees can be confirmed by a simple majority, thereby doing an end run around a Republican blockade of nominees to key boards that oversee Wall Street and labor relations.
The method for changing the rules would require a ruling from the presiding officer, likely to be Vice President Biden, declaring filibusters on such Cabinet or agency nominations invalid, followed by a vote requiring 51 votes to uphold the ruling.
After two previous threats to change rules on party-line votes — a move that critics have dubbed the “nuclear option” — Reid declared that this time he would do so. He set a key test vote beginning Tuesday with the nomination of the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
“We have the votes to move forward on this,” Reid said after a 90-minute meeting Thursday afternoon with the Democratic caucus.
Reid’s declaration punctuated an emotional day for Reid, 73, and McConnell, 71, who have developed a particularly contentious relationship after nearly seven years of serving as leaders of their parties in the Senate. They spend nearly every day just a few feet apart, across a blue-carpeted aisle separating the two desks from which they have led their respective caucuses.
“These are dark days in the history of the Senate,” McConnell said late Thursday during the day’s second bickering match between the two leaders.
Reid’s move would dramatically affect the ability of the minority party in the Senate to block nominees it does not like, and the prospect of such a move rankled other senior Republicans. They threatened to cut off bipartisan negotiations on unrelated legislative matters and vowed to expand the use of bare-majority rule in the Senate if and when they regain the majority.
They singled out the long-stalled project to store high-level nuclear waste outside Las Vegas, a proposal that Reid has blocked by using every procedural tactic available.