Harry Reid's illogical gamble

Senate Leader Harry Reid’s  threat  to deploy a “nuclear option” to get around the filibuster could still be a bluff, of course — a way to generate more press coverage of the do-nothing Senate Republicans — but judging from his speech at the Center For American Progress today,  it seems increasingly unlikely.

There will be a closed-door meeting today at 6 p.m. to try and hammer out a compromise.  If the Republicans surrender to Reid???s blackmail, though, they will have created an awful precedent. It was one thing to quietly cut a deal on the seven nominees Reid is pushing for, but quite another to be bullied into submitting to the will of the other party so publicly. The GOP will look awful.

Reid says ???If the sky is falling … let them stop the filibuster. If they want to stop what???s going on, don???t filibuster.??? Or, in other words, ‘why are you making me abuse my power?‘ If the majority can dictate when and why the minority can filibuster by threatening to do away with it whenever they deem the arguments of the minority illegitimate ??? really, what???s the point?

But Reid claims it’s a “new era”.  Or, as David Axelrod tweeted today, the ???GOP invites filibuster change through strategy of electoral nullification–slowing or stopping executive appointments to hamstring agenda.???

Yes. That???s what the filibuster been used for a while now — to slow down the majority agenda. That’s why the minority is afforded such a tool. But nullification?  Think about this: The same people who argued in 2012 that Barack Obama had accomplished more than any president in history (the same people who oversaw the passage of broader and deeper reform efforts than any president in memory) are now complaining about a hamstrung agenda. Does anyone really believe that failing to stock the NLRB vacancy is destroying the ability of the Executive Branch to do its work? I wish.

Which makes the entire kerfuffle even more perplexing.

Reid also spent the day trying to diminish the impact of what he’s about to do — despite his previous impassioned defense of the filibuster. He reiterated that his threat only applies to executive nominees, not judges or legislation. “I have no intent of changing the rules for legislation. Zero.???

It???s difficult to believe there won???t be an escalation that ultimately renders the filibuster useless (and that, no doubt, is the hope of many Democrats), but let’s take Reid at his word.

What happens after Barack Obama’s nominee Richard Cordray has his day. The Senate will become only marginally less gridlocked if Obama nominees get an up-or-down vote. Republicans, on the other hand, will do everything to make life even more miserable for Reid. One assumes the Republicans will slow down far more consequential judicial nominations, at the very least. And if the GOP ever wins back the Senate, they now have a  precedent to abuse the filibuster, as well.

There is also some political risk. Republicans, who have been framed as religiously obstructionist, will now be victims of a majority steamrolling. Yes, polls show some support for undoing the filibuster (which is itself a strong argument for the filibuster, but that’s another story) there is certainly a chance that using bullying tactics to insure the confirmation of union-backed agency head may not turn out to be as popular as Democrats seem to think.


Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi.