Nearly a decade ago, the nuclear tables were turned in the Senate when the two leaders at the center of this month’s squabble over the so-called “nuclear option” sang entirely different tunes on the filibuster.
In 2005, then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., threatened to invoke the “nuclear option” against Democrats filibustering President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, who was then a part of the majority leadership, was one of the Republicans hoping to stop the minority’s use of the filibuster over judicial nominees. Then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, defended his party’s tactics and fought to prevent Republicans from changing the rules.
Democrats and Republicans eventually worked out a deal, saving the Senate from complete nuclear meltdown for the time being, but eight years later, the two leaders have reversed their positions on the nuclear option.
So this time around, as Reid readies the nukes in the Senate and McConnell is arming his own troops for retaliation, here is a comparison of each leader’s statements on the nuclear option between the fight in 2005 and now. Times may change, but in Washington, it seems that hypocrisy is forever.
Harry Reid Then
“If there were ever an example of an abuse of power, this is it… The filibuster is the last check we have against the abuse of power in Washington.” – Harry Reid 2005
“Republicans are in power today, Democrats tomorrow. A simple majority can change anything. Mr. President, this is the way it should be. You should not be able to come in here and change willy-nilly a rule of the Senate.” – Harry Reid on Senate floor, May 23, 2005
“I just couldn’t believe that Bill Frist was going to do this. The storm had been gathering all year, and word from conservative columnists and in conservative circles was that Senator Frist of Tennessee, who was the Majority Leader, had decided to pursue a rules change that would kill the filibuster for judicial nominations. And once you opened that Pandora’s box, it was just a matter of time before a Senate leader who couldn’t get his way on something moved to eliminate the filibuster for regular business as well. And that, simply put, would be the end of the United States Senate.” – Harry Reid in his 2008 book “The Good Fight”
“As long as I am the leader, the answer’s no. I think we should just forget that. That is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never ever get to that again because I really do believe it will ruin our country.” – Harry Reid on nuclear option, C-SPAN interview, Sept. 12, 2008
Harry Reid Now
“I’m going to go to the floor on Tuesday and do what I need to do so this doesn’t happen anymore.” – Harry Reid in news conference on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013
“A consistent and unprecedented obstruction by this Republican Congress has turned advise and consent into deny and obstruct. Republicanism obstruction is to deny President Obama the ability to choose a team. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or independent, we should all be able to agree that presidents deserve the team members they want, and their nomination be subject to simple up-or-down votes.” – Harry Reid on Senate floor, July 11, 2013
“The American people know this dysfunction we have here. And all we’re asking is, let the president have his team. We’re not talking about changing the filibuster rules that relates to nominations or judges. We’re saying we shouldn’t be held up — we have 15 nominees who have been held up for an average of nine months. Does the place need to be changed? Yes.” – Harry Reid on Senate floor, July 11, 2013
Mitch McConnell Then
“The majority in the Senate is prepared to restore the Senate’s traditions and precedence to ensure that regardless of party, any president’s judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. It’s time to move away from … advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, May 19, 2005
“This is not the first time a minority of senators has upset a Senate tradition or practice, and the current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done–use its constitutional authority under article I, section 5, to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority vote. Despite the incredulous protestations of our Democratic colleagues, the Senate has repeatedly adjusted its rules as circumstances dictate.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, May 23, 2005
“The time has come to change the rules. I want to change them in an orderly fashion. I want a time agreement. But, barring that, if I have to be forced into a corner to try for majority vote I will do it because I am going to do my duty as I see my duty, whether I win or lose…. If we can only change an abominable rule by majority vote, that is in the interests of the Senate and in the interests of the nation that the majority must work its will. And it will work its will.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, May 23, 2005
Mitch McConnell Now
“It would be naive to assume that you could break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules for the Senate only for nominations, that there would be a widespread clamor across our conference, were we to be in the majority, to take that precedent and apply it to everything else…. As Harry Reid, as Lamar pointed out in his book in 2007, using the nuclear option is the end of the Senate — I repeat, the end of the Senate. It turns the Senate into the House.” – Mitch McConnell in news conference on Capitol Hill, June 18, 2013
“This is about trying to come up with excuses to break our commitments. What this is about is manufacturing a pretext for a power grab.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, July 11, 2013
“They’re willing to irreparably damage the Senate to ensure that they get their way.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, July 11, 2013
“That would violate every protection of minority rights that have defined the United States Senate for as long as anyone can remember. Let me assure you, this Pandora’s box, once opened, will be utilized again and again by future majorities. And it will make the meaningful consensus-building that has served our nation so well a relic — a relic of the past.” – Mitch McConnell on Senate floor, July 11, 2013