Senators Look to Defuse ‘Nuclear Option’ Ahead of Tuesday Votes

BY Terence Burlij and Katelyn Polantz  July 16, 2013 at 9:01 AM EST

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Old Senate Chamber for the Senate’s joint conference on the filibuster Monday. Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

Senators remained in search of a deal Tuesday with the goal of avoiding a showdown over proposed changes to the chamber’s rules that would allow a simple majority vote on several of President Barack Obama’s stalled appointees.

Nearly all 100 members of the Senate met for more than three hours Monday night in the Old Senate Chamber, but despite reports of progress from Democrats and Republicans alike, party leaders said no agreement had been reached.

“We’ve had a very good conversation,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters afterwards. “The conversation is going to continue tonight.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a statement: “A clear bipartisan majority in the meeting believed the leaders ought to find a solution. And discussions will continue.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe highlight some of the reaction from other members:

“There’s no deal but there’s a much better understanding,” said Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), one of his party’s most senior senators. Rockefeller said there was a framework for a possible deal before the showdown votes on Obama’s current picks to run the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some exited more grim, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who spent the previous week in shuttle diplomacy with Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House.

Asked whether Reid had come around, McCain said simply: “Yes, sort of.” He said the talks were now firmly between Reid and McConnell, predicting a long night ahead.

Politico’s Manu Raju, Josh Bresnahan and Burgess Everett report on some of what was said inside the senators-only meeting:

According to several sources familiar with the matter, McConnell floated the possibility that Reid could essentially get what he wanted: Enough votes to confirm seven presidential nominees awaiting action by the Senate. But there was a catch: Reid must drop his threat to employ the nuclear option that would allow him to change the filibuster rules with just Democratic votes. Reid would not agree to the condition because McConnell refused to forgo filibustering future presidential nominees.

Yet, Senate insiders cautioned late Monday night that there was still time for a bipartisan deal before the fight comes to a head on Tuesday morning.

The leaders are pushing up against a 10 a.m. ET deadline, when the Senate is scheduled to come into session, and soon thereafter begin voting on seven presidential nominees that Reid set up last week.

Earlier in the day Monday it appeared the Senate was headed toward a full-scale fight over nominees, with Reid delivering remarks at a left-leaning Washington think tank defending his push to curb the use of the filibuster.

“My efforts are directed at saving the Senate from becoming obsolete, to remain relevant and effective as an institution,” Reid said in a speech at the Center for American Progress.

The Obama administration also weighed in, urging senators to find a solution that would allow the president to fill his second term roster.

“The president believes that the Senate ought to function and hopes the Senate will figure out a way that the nomination process is appropriately streamlined,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney at Monday’s briefing.

Other Democrats were more forceful in their calls for the rules to be changed.

“We have a system here where 41 senators decide what we do here,” said five-term Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

But Arizona Republican Jeff Flake warned that altering the rules of the Senate could have serious long-term consequences. “The rule change that is being considered this week is more far-reaching and more significant than has been advertised,” Flake said. “It has the potential to change this institution in ways that are both hazardous and unforeseen.”

And while the filibuster talk has dominated the conversation in Washington of late, the Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver notes that the procedural measure is a bit of mystery to people outside the nation’s capital.

DeSilver also provides this interesting factoid about the filibuster:

A “filibuster” originally was a military adventurer, usually American or European, who tried to take over a Latin American or Caribbean country (William Walker being the best-known); the term derives from the same Dutch word that gave us “freebooter.”

While the action taking place in the Senate is hardly an adventure, by pushing forward with changes to the chamber’s rules on Tuesday lawmakers could be venturing into uncharted territory.

For some background, the NewsHour explained how the filibuster works and why it’s become a point of contention in the Senate. Watch that segment from last November here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama paid tribute to former President George H.W. Bush at the White House on Monday, praising the 41st president for his work in establishing the “Points of Light” charitable foundation, which celebrates volunteerism. “Mr. President, I’m one of millions of people who’ve been inspired by your passion and commitment,” Mr. Obama said. “You’re such a gentleman, such a good and kind person, and we are surely a kinder and gentler nation because of you.”

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she’ll use her political connections with heads of state to help stop the poaching of African elephants, Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post writes.

  • The trial that will test a controversial voter ID law in Pennsylvania began Monday.

  • The California Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from supporters of Proposition 8 to reinstate the 2008 voter-approved measure that banned gay marriage in the state. Last month the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriages in California to resume.

  • Politico’s Byron Tau reports the president’s re-election campaign still carries $3.5 million in debt.

  • The Washington Post’s Dan Balz explores whether Texas Gov. Rick Perry might make another run for president in 2016.

  • The left-leaning Public Policy Polling found that Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s approval ratings have dropped in the last month amid disclosures he and his family received money and gifts from a campaign donor.

  • Terry McAuliffe’s campaign announced Monday that the Virginia Democrat raised nearly $2 million in June and has more than $6 million cash on hand for his gubernatorial bid. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hauled in $1.1 million and had $2.7 million in the bank.

  • The Texas Tribune reports Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis raised nearly $1 million in the last two weeks of June after her filibuster of a restrictive abortion bill. If Davis decided to run for governor she would have a long way to go to catch the front-runner for the GOP nomination, Greg Abbott. The Texas Attorney General has more than $20 million cash on hand.

  • Stu Rothenberg explains how the decision by former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer not to run for the Senate in 2014 will impact the Democratic Party’s hopes of holding on to the seat.

  • NBC News’ Alexa Dragoumis looks at the legacies of Senate appointments, often serve brief stints on Capitol Hill.

  • A Quinnipiac University survey released Monday found former Rep. Anthony Weiner leading the Democratic primary for New York City mayor with 25 percent of the vote. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn received 22 percent support in the poll. In the Democratic primary battle for city comptroller, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer leads Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer by 15 points, 48 percent to 33 percent.

  • An aide to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was arrested for thefts in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

  • WNYC notes a secretive February 2012 meeting between President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the White House that may have meant the presidential incumbent candidate was courting an endorsement.

  • United Football League franchise employees and coaches are suing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul, who owns the now-defunct league. They claim he owes them payments.

  • Former CIA Director David Petraeus will earn $1 for teaching at City University of New York after a dust-up over his initial much-higher salary, the New York Times reports.

  • Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan plans to run for re-election instead of launching a gubernatorial bid.

  • The Chicago Tribune has an incredible amount of detail packed into their interactive map of gun violence in the city.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • NewsHour reporter-producer Joshua Barajas looks to the distant past and finds three New York politicians who survived scandals to stage comebacks.

  • The NewsHour looked at reactions to the Zimmerman verdict and how race may factor into the criminal justice system. Judy Woodruff spoke with four analysts: Christina Swarns of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Jelani Cobb of the University of Connecticut, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University Law School and Carol Swain at Vanderbilt Law School.
  • Correspondent Jeffrey Brown got an update on efforts to improve factory conditions in Bangladesh from Avedis Seferian of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production and Scott Nova of Worker Rights Consortium.

  • Gwen Ifill spoke with USA Today’s Christine Brennan about the doping revelations from U.S. track star Tyson Gay.

  • NewsHour reporter-producer P.J. Tobia [reports](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/07/israel-sends-14-eritreans-back-to-their-homeland.html) on the Israeli government’s decision to release 14 Eritreans from a detention facility and send them back to Eritrea. And if you missed it when it was published last month, be sure to check out ["Unpromised Land"],(http://www.pbs.org/newshour/unpromised-land/) Tobia’s in-depth look at Eritrean refugees in Israel.

TOP TWEETS

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