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Senate Filibuster Fight Puts Spotlight on Washington Gridlock

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., as he walks to the Senate Democrats’ caucus lunch on Thursday. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Morning Line

Sometimes a day in Washington can be just as productive as an evening spent watching “Sharknado.”

Thursday might have been one of those days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spent much of the day trading personal rebukes after Reid threatened to change the chamber’s rules by allowing a simple majority vote on Cabinet nominees and agency picks, instead of the current 60-vote threshold.

Reid said the reforms were necessary because his Republican counterpart had turned his back on an agreement forged by the two leaders earlier this year to limit the use of filibusters in the Senate.

“It could be said Sen. McConnell broke his word. That certainly could be said. The Republican leader has failed to live up to his commitments,” charged the Nevada Democrat.

McConnell countered that pushing forward with the so-called “nuclear option” would permanently tarnish Reid’s legacy. “No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate,” said the Kentucky Republican. “Well, if this majority leader caves to the fringes and lets this happen, I’m afraid that’s exactly what they’ll write.”

Later in the day McConnell’s re-election campaign sent out a tweet with an image of a tombstone bearing Reid’s name and an inscription reading: “Killed the Senate.”

The dust-up centers on a handful of President Barack Obama’s nominees, including Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez to be Secretary of Labor, and vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

Reid filed cloture on seven nominees Thursday, and signaled that if Republicans blocked moving forward with votes next week, he would push ahead with the changes. “If they aren’t willing to be reasonable, we know where we’re headed,” Reid told reporters following a meeting of Senate Democrats.

Politico reports that Reid told his members that circumstances were different than eight years ago when lawmakers avoided a similar showdown over President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees:

In a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday, Reid began by apologizing to his colleagues for cutting bipartisan deals to avert the nuclear option, including at the beginning of this year. And the Nevada Democrat complained that he allowed votes on scores of conservative nominees under former President George W. Bush after a bipartisan coalition headed off the nuclear option in 2005. But Reid said it had been the right thing to do because Bush had won a second term in the White House.

Now, Reid argued, times have changed.

“I ate sh– on some of those nominees,” Reid told his colleagues, according to sources who were present.

The escalating war of words spilled back onto the floor of the Senate chamber late Thursday, with McConnell calling it “a dark day for the United States Senate” and again suggesting history would render a harsh judgment on Reid’s leadership.

“If we don’t pull back from the brink here, my friend, the majority leader, is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever,” McConnell said.

Other Republicans expressed outrage at Reid’s tactics, arguing the changes would destroy the rights of the minority party in the Senate.

“When that day comes and people wonder, ‘What happened to the Senate? When did it die?’ We will know the answer,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “It died the day the nuclear option was triggered. That’s what nuclear devices do. They destroy.”

But Democrats, frustrated by what they consider obstruction on the part of Republicans, said Reid had held out long enough.

“It has been sad to see this chamber, once considered the premier deliberative body in the world, fall into such a state of paralysis and dysfunction,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. He praised Reid for going the “extra mile” in an attempt to preserve the agreement reached with McConnell at the start of the current session of Congress.

Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker sought to bridge the partisan divide by suggesting Senators in both parties meet next week to talk through their differences.

But even reaching a consensus on a day and time for that session proved difficult Thursday, with Reid setting the meeting for Monday at 6 p.m. ET in the Old Senate Chamber, and McConnell objecting because of what he noted is typically “sparse attendance” at the Capitol on Monday evenings.

In perhaps a nod to the need to resolve dysfunction in Washington, Reid and McConnell have agreed to sit down together for an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Meanwhile, in the House, members approved a farm bill after their first attempt came up short. The latest version approved Thursday did not include funding for food stamps, and did not receive a single Democratic vote.

The House measure will need to be reconciled with the Senate farm bill passed last month on a strong bipartisan basis that contained funding for the food stamp program.

And lawmakers continued to work on an agreement to reverse the increase in student loan interest rates, but even that reported deal appeared to be fraying late Thursday.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Friday found voters mostly believing Republicans are responsible for the lack of action in Washington.

From the survey:

There is gridlock because Republicans are determined to block any Obama initiative, 51 percent of voters say, while 35 percent say President Barack Obama lacks the skills to convince leaders of Congress to work together.

Asked another way, 53 percent say Obama is doing “too little” to compromise with congressional Republicans, but 68 percent of voters say congressional Republicans are doing “too little.” Ten percent of voters blame Democrats for gridlock, while 23 percent blame Republicans and 64 percent blame both parties equally.

And because of it, American voters said 69 percent to 27 percent that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will not be able to work together to pass immigration reform.

The NewsHour’s Ray Suarez examined that issue Thursday, reporting on Speaker John Boehner’s continued insistence that the House take up the issue on its own terms, and speaking with Rep. Raul Grijalva.

The Arizona Democrat discussed his discomfort with the border security deal that led to passage of the sweeping Senate measure.

Watch the segment here or below:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday in an interview with Talking Points Memo that she disagrees with Boehner’s decision not to put the a bill on the floor that does not have the support of most of his Republican members.

“The Constitution says a majority. It doesn’t say the Hastert rule, or sometimes the Hastert rule, or when I feel like it the Hastert rule. It says the majority. And there are ways to achieve the majority that I hope they will pursue,” she said.

Track the latest on our immigration page.


  • Pennsylvania’s attorney general won’t defend the state’s ban on gay marriage.

  • Freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of California used the grammar skills he developed as a high school teacher to take Boehner to task for his statement about immigration reform.

  • Among the immigration bills in the works by House Republicans: a new version of the DREAM Act for children brought to the United States illegally by their parents.

  • Amy Walter points out in her column for the Cook Political Report, “there is no political figure – Republican or Democrat – who can ‘sell’ the GOP conference on the need for [immigration] reform.”

  • San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a former member of Congress, admitted he has a problem with sexual harassment, saying he needs help and will work with professionals “to make changes in my behavior and approach.”

  • Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Angus King announced Thursday that they will introduce an updated version of the Glass-Steagall Act that would separate traditional banks and other financial institutions such as investment banks and hedge funds.

  • Amy Chozick details Hillary Clinton’s goldmine of speechmaking.

  • In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., defended the hiring of a staffer who advocated for Southern secession and praised John Wilkes Booth.

  • Sen. David Vitter’s super PAC is raking in big bucks for a TBD office, Roll Call reports.

  • Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up in 2014, has more than $4 million in the bank.

  • A Democratic state senator in South Carolina is keeping apace with Gov. Nikki Haley in fundraising as he attempts to prevent her from winning a second term.

  • Is this the weekend for former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer to say what he is up to?

  • Sen. John Cornyn hired a tea party operative for his re-election campaign.

  • Public Policy Polling has more meaningless early surveys from Iowa. Spoiler alert: Hillary Clinton still leads.

  • Thanks to Superstorm Sandy sending it ashore, a grieving mother was able to read a message in a bottle her daughter had thrown into the water years before dying in an accident.

  • Some eerily similar pictures from Egypt — this time during the 1952 revolution.

  • Greenpeace activists scaled the Shard, western Europe’s tallest building, as an act of protest against drilling for oil in the Arctic.

  • Paul Farhi explains embargoes, giving detail on how they are sometimes ridiculous.

  • A new study found that a family of four needs to earn $88,615 annually to “enjoy a modest existence in the greater Washington D.C. area.”

  • BuzzFeed gives us 26 reasons why the Bay Area is awesome.

  • Forget Journolist. There’s a list serv for political types who love Phish.

  • Jay-Z says that of course he gets texts from the president.

  • A T-shirt with the president as a broccoli head? Perhaps the perfect gag gift. Thanks, PETA!

  • Christina wrapped up guest-hosting for Kojo Nnamdi on WAMU 88.5 in Washington D.C. with a segment on bullying among siblings, the war between the D.C. Council and Wal-Mart and a new art exhibit on Ballet Russes.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • In this week’s blog post, Gwen Ifill looks at a week’s worth of “split-screen politics.” Check it out here.

  • Remember to submit your questions for Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates to Judy for the debate she’s moderating July 20.

  • Experiencing virtual reality may help us save for our economic futures, Paul Solman explains in Thursday’s Making Sen$e report.

  • Want to know what Paul looks like morphed with Mitt Romney or Mr. Obama? Explore more effects of virtual reality on our Making Sen$e page.

  • The Dow soared on Thursday, but it’s much more likely to hit 5,000 before 20,000, argues economist Terry Burnham.

  • For the latest on the Canadian train disaster, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Nancy Wood about the criminal investigation into the derailment.

  • We heard from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News how Egyptian women rescue each other from assualt in Tahrir Square.


Simone Pathe and desk assistants Mallory Sofastaii and Jordan Vesey contributed to this report.

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

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