Senate Showdown Over Rules Reaches Boiling Point Between Leaders

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  July 15, 2013 at 9:35 AM EDT


Sen. Harry Reid appears on ‘Meet the Press’ in Washington, D.C. Sunday. Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

The Morning Line

All 100 senators have been invited to meet Monday evening in the Old Senate Chamber to explore whether a compromise can be reached that would allow votes on President Barack Obama’s nominees and avoid a potential showdown over rules changes that could further inflame tensions in the body.

The session, scheduled for 6 p.m. ET, comes as the chamber’s top Democrat and Republican clashed again Sunday over amending the filibuster rules.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid charged Republicans were denying the president the right to complete his second term team.

“The changes we’re making are very, very minimal,” the Nevada Democrat said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What we’re doing is saying, ‘Look, American people. Shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?’”

Reid said that the current fight did not compare to 2005 when Republicans threatened to adopt changes to filibuster rules to advance President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. Instead, he noted the rules change would only apply to executive branch nominees. “We’re not touching judges. That is what they were talking about. This is not judges. This is not legislation. This is allowing the people of America to have a president who can have his team, to have his team in place. This is nothing like went on before,” Reid said.

In a separate “Meet the Press” interview following Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also pointed to the 2005 experience and said it should show Reid that forging ahead with the changes would be detrimental to the chamber.

“I’m glad we didn’t do it,” McConnell said. “We went to the brink and we pulled back because cooler heads prevailed, and we knew it would be a mistake for the long-term future of the Senate and the country.”

McConnell said that same thinking should apply now. “I hope we’ll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate,” he said. “We have never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of Senate in order to diminish the voices of individual senators. We’ve never done that, and we sure shouldn’t start it now.”

But the Kentucky Republican did soften his tone a bit from last week, when he said Reid would be remembered as the “worst leader of the Senate ever” if he went forward with the rules changes.

“He’s a reasonable man, he’s a good majority leader,” McConnell said of Reid. “And we’re going to have a chance to air all of this out in a joint conference with all of our members Monday, and I’m hoping we won’t make this big mistake.”

Politico’s Manu Raju and Josh Bresnahan look at how the relationship between Reid and McConnell has soured in recent years. They also outline how the most recent disagreement came about:

From McConnell’s perspective, both he and Reid have long been on the same page when it comes to protecting the Senate’s traditions, which have grown more important with the death of fierce institutional defenders like Robert Byrd. During the past two years, Reid had headed off a push by more junior Democrats to dramatically weaken the filibuster, opting instead to cut bipartisan deals with McConnell without invoking the nuclear option. But now, McConnell believes, Reid has gone back on his word.

Indeed, when news leaked that Reid was considering changing the filibuster rules, McConnell confronted Reid about his plans. In a private exchange, McConnell asked Reid directly if he would use the nuclear option, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Reid wouldn’t tell McConnell what he would do, sources say, marking a bit of a role reversal. In private conversations, Reid has long had the habit of fully laying out his line of thinking to McConnell, while the GOP leader often keeps his cards close to his vest, according to insiders privy to those talks.

But this time, Reid wouldn’t say what he planned, angering McConnell.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, meanwhile, spoke with current and former members of the Senate who “paint a mostly dismal picture” of life in the chamber:

There is a growing sense of despair among the rank-and-file senators, who privately grouse that the two leaders, despite many similarities in style and background, have become so distrustful of one another they barely speak to each other, except for small talk about their shared love of the Washington Nationals.

One GOP senator last week pleaded with McConnell to reach out to Reid to establish some regular channel of communication, maybe a biweekly breakfast, to try to solve their problems. McConnell declined, saying he simply could not trust Reid, according to the Senate Republican, who asked for anonymity to speak about the relationship.

Last month all 100 members of the Senate sat in their seats to vote on an immigration bill that passed with strong bipartisan support. The comity of that day seems like a distant memory given the partisan rancor of last week. The outcome of Monday’s meeting will signal which direction the Senate is headed in for the remainder of the year.

ZIMMERMAN VERDICT

George Zimmerman was acquitted Saturday for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Since then, the government’s response has been cautious as pressure mounts from civil rights groups and protestors.

President Obama asked for communities to be thoughtful on ending gun violence. The White House released this statement Sunday night:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

The NAACP is urging a stronger reaction from the government, in the form of a civil rights probe. On Sunday talk shows, NAACP President Ben Jealous called for the Department of Justice to investigate Zimmerman’s actions. His words added momentum to protests in major cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., Sunday and to online petitions on the White House site from people unhappy with Zimmerman’s acquittal. Those petitions still need tens of thousands of signatures to elicit a formal response from the government.

The Justice Department is looking into bringing hate crime charges against Zimmerman but could face a high bar for proving his motivations, the New York Times reports.

“Experienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction,” the department’s statement said.

The Hill newspaper writes the department’s decision could be especially difficult for Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American to hold that position. Holder’s leadership has become a flashpoint for conservatives and others after the department guarded information on a failed gun-tracking operation and, in a separate situation, subpoenaed journalists’ phone records.

The matter could become more politicized as Democratic officials, including two representatives from Tennessee and New York, voiced support for DOJ charges against Zimmerman, the Hill also noted.

The NewsHour has a roundup of protests, including those that took place in D.C., following the verdict in this liveblog. Here’s a second NewsHour liveblog from when the trial’s news broke Saturday night.

WNYC has details of the protests in New York City, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes about those in Pittsburgh. The Los Angeles Times chronicled the protests in that city.

LINE ITEMS

  • The Department of State isn’t disclosing how much it spent on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s travels one year after Bloomberg News filed a Freedom of Information request.

  • Phone companies charge the U.S. government hundreds of dollars every time it wants to wiretap phone calls, the Associated Press reports.

  • The New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStaso reports Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will headline a New Hampshire GOP fundraiser next month.

  • Could Cruz become U.S. president even though he was born in Canada? The Houston Chronicle tracks the legal precedent on birtherism and the presidency.

  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced he will run for governor.

  • The Great Falls Tribune of Montana investigates former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s ties to dark money groups.

  • And Schweitzer, a popular Democrat in a red state, said he won’t run for the seat to be vacated by Sen. Max Baucus in 2014.

  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is keeping quiet the names of candidates for a seat on the state’s Court of Appeals.

  • Retiring Boston mayor Tom Menino will publish a book on his 20-year mayoral career.

  • The Los Angeles Times reported about Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s new gig as head of the University of California system.

  • Democrats are charging that the IRS also unfairly targeted liberals.

  • Rob Christensen of the Charlotte Observer looks at how North Carolina’s conservative General Assembly has shifted the approach of Gov. Pat McCrory.

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi explains the Koch brothers’ online public relations strategy.

  • Bloomberg reports on the financial pinch abortion clinics now face in Texas since the state passed a controversial law restricting them.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks spoke with Judy Woodruff on Friday about the prospects for immigration reform, the debate over the farm bill, and the push to change the rules of the Senate.

Watch here or below:

  • Mark and David also discussed Sarah Palin’s potential Senate bid in Alaska and Los Angeles Dodgers rookie phenom Yasiel Puig with Hari Sreenivasan in the Doubleheader.

Watch here or below:

  • How could Jay Gatsby make millions in “The Great Gatsby”? An economist explores the upward mobility in society that allows for the plot in this classic book in this Making Sense post on income inequality.

  • Also in the Making Sense income inequality series, a former George W. Bush administration economic adviser explains why the country has a 1 percent.

  • We ask, how do you wash your hair in space?

  • Political Editor Christina Bellantoni asked the hugging saint for a mantra.

TOP TWEETS

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: