By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: It's not a stretch to call the Senate vote yesterday a landmark. Here's why: When senators arrived at the Capitol, it took 60 votes to confirm most presidential nominees. When they left, it took only 51. This sweeping change to the filibuster is another sign of the times in the Senate, an institution that has more new blood than old memories. Long after most senators rushed off for a two-week break, John McCain stood at his desk on the Senate floor and lamented the moment. He's correct when he said Democrats never would have been able to do what they did if Robert C. Byrd was still alive. "I'm angry yes," McCain said. "We'll get over the anger, but the sorrow of what has been done to this institution will be with us for a long, long time." Perhaps there was no choice, given the partisan warfare on Capitol Hill that has created intense gridlock. But any lingering seeds of goodwill that remained now seem gone. President Obama's nominees will be confirmed, yet a period of even more acrimony is ahead in the Senate.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: What's remarkable about the Senate going "nuclear" isn't that Senate leadership wanted to press the button. It's that this time, the Senate couldn't save itself - not even close. The "Gang of 14? that averted a similar move (by majority Republicans) less than a decade ago ushered in a new era of Senate business, where small bipartisan informal working groups - "gangs" - had the capacity to rule. But try to make a list of 14 senators who could even form such a "gang" today; we'll be invoking cloture over here while you come up with the list. The irony, of course, is that filibusters were symptomatic of the partisan culture, though not the cause. That means getting rid of them will ease a few things on the appointment front but nothing at all on the legislative front. Slow, bitter Senate business will become more prevalent, not less.
THE SENATE GETS NUKED. When senators arrived in the Capitol yesterday, it took 60 votes to confirm presidential nominees. When they left, it only took 51 after changing Senate rules for the first time in decades, ABC's JEFF ZELENY and ARLETTE SAENZ report. The Senate voted 52 to 48 to change the rules to allow the president's judicial and executive nominees to be confirmed with only 51 votes. Supreme Court nominees are exempt from the change and still subject to the 60-vote threshold. The Senate vote effectively eliminates the use of filibusters against presidential nominees, with Democrats advancing the most significant change in Senate rules in more than a generation to break a logjam of President Obama's blocked nominees. Leaders of both parties have threatened for years to make historic changes in Senate rules, but have always stopped short because compromise - and fear of the consequences - has prevailed. The procedural move became known as the "nuclear option," because it was always seen as a final legislative tool available to end the gridlock. "This is the way it has to be," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "The Senate has changed." President Obama lauded Senate Democrats' historic change of filibuster rules, saying the partisan obstruction in Congress "just isn't normal." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, expressed frustration after yesterday's vote, calling it "a sad day in the history of the Senate." http://abcn.ws/18TiDHI
WHY THE SENATE FILIBUSTER RULES CHANGE COULD BACKFIRE ON DEMS. Majority Leader Harry Reid's claim that Supreme Court nominees are excluded from yesterday's controversial Senate rules change is a distinction without a difference, judicial conservatives said, according to ABC's ARIANE DE VOGUE. "I don't see how Reid can abolish the filibuster vis a vis pending judicial nominees without setting a clear precedent that would enable a future Senate majority, in the very midst of a confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nominee, to abolish the filibuster with respect to that nominee," Ed Whelan writes in the National Review. Doug Kendall, of the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, admits as much in a statement: "To be sure, with the tea party as crazy as it is, it is understandable to have some trepidation about what this rule change could mean in the future." Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a floor speech, "Our side will nominate and confirm lower court and Supreme Court nominees with 51 votes, regardless of whether the Democrats actually buy into this fanciful notion that they can demolish the filibuster on lower court nominees and still preserve it for Supreme Court nominees." Carrie Severino, who heads the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, says it is fine with her if Reid uses the so-called "nuclear option" and notes that "Republicans should welcome the chance to put more Scalias and Thomases on the bench when they are in the White House." http://abcn.ws/18TUaCm
ERIC CANTOR CALLS IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS 'VERY NAÏVE'. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor leveled sharp criticism yesterday at the Obama administration for its handling of the Iranian nuclear talks, declaring in an interview with ABC's JEFF ZELENY: "Our strategy with Iran should be distrust and verify." "I think the policy is very naïve," Cantor told ABC News. "To try and go strike a deal for a deal's sake could jeopardize U.S. security interests." With fresh negotiations underway in Geneva between the United States and five other world powers, Cantor raised skepticism of an emerging deal that calls for relaxing economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing to halt the development of its nuclear program. Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said the Obama administration had not spoken out forcefully enough to condemn the comments of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who described Israel as "the rabid dog of the region." "The information that I'm hearing out of Geneva is very startling to me," Cantor said, particularly noting the supreme leader's comments about Israel. http://abcn.ws/18rSnbc VIDEO: http://yhoo.it/I7NbPS
CHRIS CHRISTIE BALKS AT TALK OF 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie officially took the reins of the Republican Governors Association yesterday, becoming the chairman at the group's annual conference where he joked at a news conference that he was "a bit unprepared" to comment on whether governors should be the party's standard bearer in 2016, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. The presidential election "is a long, long way away," he said, adding that he is "not looking to start speculating about other campaigns. We have 2014 to deal with." Christie, 51, also feigned shock at the intense interest in the next presidential campaign. And while he is "honored" by his colleague's "confidence" in him, he declined to entertain any questions about his possible presidential aspirations. "I think if any one of us in our individual capacity and many of us as leaders of this organization, on the executive committee, start thinking about 2016 at our own peril, but worse at the peril of our colleagues," Christie said. "So I have to speak for myself and my focus is raising the funds that are necessary to able to get the stories of these governors out to the citizens of their state and to then move forward from there to help them by getting out on the ground and campaigning." http://abcn.ws/1dlNHHF
NOTED: GEORGE W. BUSH GIVES PEP TALK TO GOP GOVERNORS. The 26 governors gathered for their annual conference in Arizona got a surprise lunch visitor yesterday: Former President George W. Bush. Bush addressed a governors-only lunch in a rare political appearance on the final day of the Republican Governors Association conference, according to ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. The former president declined to answer questions from reporters when he was leaving the lunch, but an aide to Bush said he was asked by Gov. Christie, the new head of the RGA, to "come surprise the governors at lunch and share some experiences from his time as governor and president." On leaving the lunch at the posh Phonecian resort's steakhouse, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona said Bush spoke to the group for about two hours and took questions, stopping on his way to Oklahoma. Brewer described him as "upbeat and charismatic" and said the president, who himself served two terms as governor of Texas, "encouraged the group." "He agreed with us that the best breeding grounds for presidents are the governors," Brewer said, adding that Brewer's question to Bush was "what was the best piece of advice his mother gave him when he became president." http://abcn.ws/18rWV0Y
SENATE FAILS TO ADVANCE TO DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL. Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote on the National Defense Authorization Act Thursday, putting funding for all the nation's military spending in legislative limbo, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ and JEFF ZELENY note. The Senate voted 51-44 on a vote to invoke cloture on the bill, but needed 60 votes to clear the procedural hurdle. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., voted against cloture as did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a procedural move that allows him to bring it back up for consideration. Senate Republicans objected to moving forward with the bill, which authorizes $625 billion in defense spending, because they wanted a guarantee that additional amendments to the NDAA would be considered. So far, Reid has only tried to schedule votes on amendments related to Guantanamo and military sexual assault. Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked that each side be able to offer 25 amendments, but Senate Democrats rejected that request. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services, said he'd be willing for each side to present six amendments to the NDAA, but Republicans said that wasn't enough. http://abcn.ws/1dm2JNG
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
BOEHNER SAYS PROSPECTS FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM 'ABSOLUTELY NOT' DEAD. While just seven days of legislative business remain before lawmakers are expected to leave Washington for the winter holidays, House Speaker John Boehner maintained that immigration reform still has a spot in his majority's agenda next year, but he does not intend to move on comprehensive legislation, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. Asked whether immigration reform was dead in the House, Boehner said that lawmakers continue to work towards the day when immigration reform might come to the floor. "Is immigration reform dead? Absolutely not," Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol Thursday. "I believe that Congress needs to deal with this issue. Our committees are continuing to do their work. There are a lot of private conversations that are underway to try to figure out, how do we best move on a common-sense, step-by-step basis to address this very important issue…because it is a very important issue." http://abcn.ws/18TuDsI