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The Morning Plum: It’s still possible for GOP Senators to avoid nuclear Armageddon

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With the Senate hurtling towards a nuclear showdown today, this morning brings fresh signs that Democrats still may win this standoff by getting what they want without having to hit the nuke button.

With key votes set for this morning on Obama nominations, here’s the state of play as of now. Democratic aides say Mitch McConnell has been effectively marginalized from the talks, because he continues to make demands Dems can’t accept.

According to one Democratic aide, Harry Reid has refused a Mitch McConnell request to confirm all seven Obama nominations (among them nominations to the CFPB and the NLRB) currently being discussed in exchange for pledging not to change the rules in the future. (David Drucker offers a similar account.) Dems continue to insist that they must retain the option of going nuclear. After all, a pledge otherwise could leave Dems no response if Republican obstruction of nominations resumes in coming days, which history suggests it would.

Meanwhile, I can add a glimmer of good news: John McCain is leading a group of GOP Senators in talks with Dems who appear poised to support all the nominations with none of the conditions that McConnell wants. A second Democratic aide tells me that this group of GOP Senators is “basically willing to give us everything we want, with no conditions on future action.” The aide adds that Dems this morning are still trying to determine whether that group’s stance is “legit.”

Remember, if Dems get enough Republican votes to break the GOP filibuster on these nominations, that’s a victory that could put off the need to go nuclear. And right or wrong, this is the outcome Democratic leaders prefer. In other words, it’s still possible for some GOP Senators to do the right thing and avert a nuclear showdown, and that looks like it may happen. Watch today’s votes for the final answer.

The fact that Dems won’t agree to remove the threat of nuclear action later will be widely denounced as proof they are refusing to make concessions to avoid Armageddon. But remember, what is at stake here is whether the Senate is going to function as a nominally democratic body going forward, and whether Republicans will be permitted to continue to render the Upper Chamber a 60-vote body for the explicit purpose of rendering agencies dysfunctional because they are ideological hostile to their missions and perhaps their very existence. As Jonathan Cohn puts it:

Under McConnell’s leadership, the filibuster has become a modern-day instrument of “nullification.” Republicans are using it to undermine laws — like those protecting consumers from banks, or guaranteeing workers the right to organize into unions — that they happen not to like. Thanks in part to a recent court ruling, rendering it effectively impossible for the president to appoint temporary agency heads unilaterally, the Republican effort is succeeding. And it has grave implications for the people who depend on these laws.

Of those who say Reid and Democrats are “overreaching” or somehow endangering the “comity” of the Senate by threatening to change the rules, these questions must be asked: Do you view it as acceptable for Republicans to continue to engage in obstructionist conduct explicitly designed to stymy the functioning of agencies they don’t like? Is the Democratic response not a reasonable response to current levels of Senate dysfunction? Is there any substantive reason for opposing doing away with the filibuster on executive nominations, given the realities of GOP behavior, what’s motivating it, and the Senate paralysis that has resulted from it? Because opposing a rules change is tantamount to an endorsement of the current status quo.

* THE CASE FOR CHANGING SENATE RULES: The New York Times editorial board makes a strong argument for going nuclear, detailing that, yes, GOP obstruction of Obama nominees is unprecedented and that a president should have the right to staff his administration without getting blocked by the opposition’s “ideological litmus tests.” Also, the Times rightly notes that by reasserting majority rule, this move would set a good precedent.

All of this is why Senate liberals say they would support the change even under a GOP president: it’s about having functional government.

* GOP SABOTAGE GOVERNING FORCING FILIBUSTER CRISIS: Don’t miss the New York Times’s overview of how Republicans have effectively ground operations at the National Labor Relations Board to a halt. While Dems had been partly at fault for a failure to staff the agency, the current impasse is explicitly the result of GOP ideological opposition to the role the agency plays — exactly the reason Dems may have no choice but to eliminate the filibuster on executive nominations.

* THE ROLE OBAMA PLAYED IN FILIBUSTER FIGHT: There was some chatter yesterday to the effect that the White House had thrust itself into the last minute talks over the filibuster. This is what apparently happened:

White House officials said the president had played a behind-the-scenes role in the messy procedural fight, saying that Obama supported Reid in whatever decision he made. At Reid’s urging, Obama has made calls to wavering senators asking them to back Reid if he makes the move.

Obama had privately told Reid as early as mid-May that he would support him if the Majority Leader decided to take the rules-change plunge.

* WHO THE SENATE IS FIGHTING ABOUT: The Post has a quick, reader friendly guide to all the Obama nominees at the center of the filibuster fight. This is useful, as far as it goes, but Republican opposition to some of these nominees is more about grinding the agencies they would run to a halt than about who would run them. And, of course, the current battle was pushed to a head by years of relentless GOP obstructionism on multiple fronts.

* THE LATEST GOP ARGUMENT FOR OBSTRUCTIONISM: Republicans are now arguing that their primary reason for opposing Obama’s picks is that they were recess appointments that were declared unconstitutional. Jonathan Bernstein knocks down that argument and reminds us that this debate is really about whether Republicans should be able to turn the Senate into a 60-vote body solely to nullify agencies they don’t like.

* OBAMA SET TO DO INTERVIEWS WITH HISPANIC MEDIA: With the President set to take his case for immigration reform to multiple Hispanic media outlets today, MSNBC’s First Read crew (no link yet) gets this right:

If Republicans thought they had been getting bad press from Spanish-language media, they ain’t seen nothing yet.

Yup. Just as Jorge Ramos, the Walter Cronkite of Hispanic media, who has also been relentlessly critical of Obama on immigration.

* A NOTE ON THE SENATE MAP: With analysts proclaiming that GOP chances of taking back the Senate are mounting, Roll Call has a balanced look at the Senate map, noting that there is still a chance Dems could pick up a seat in either Georgia or Kentucky. If so, Republicans would have to sweep four seats currently held by Dem incumbents to win the majority. Even if not, Republicans still need to win three of them.

* MARCO RUBIO GOES QUIET ON IMMIGRATION: Via Taegan Goddard, a nice catch by National Journal:

After relentlessly defending an ambitious overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws for months, Marco Rubio didn’t respond when House Republican leaders last week trashed it as a “flawed…massive, Obama-care like bill.” The Florida senator’s office, which churned out countless press releases touting his interviews and speeches about the legislation, hasn’t said a word about immigration since the Senate passed the bill on June 27.
The silence is a sign that, at least publicly, Rubio won’t try to dissuade the House from a piecemeal approach that excludes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Rubio’s new focus? Repealing Obamacare. That should compensate for all his apostasy on immigration!

What else?