Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he is once again considering making major changes to long-standing Senate rules in an effort to break a logjam of President Obama's nominees who have been blocked by Republicans.
He stopped short of saying he had decided to invoke the so-called nuclear option, which would effectively blow up the customs and traditions of the Senate filibuster. But he made clear that his frustration had reached a new level in the face of obstruction for the president's nominees.
"I'm at the point where we need to do something to allow government to function," Reid told reporters when asked if he would consider using the nuclear option to change Senate rules by a simple majority vote.
Senate Republicans have blocked three consecutive nominees to the country's most powerful appeals court, the latest of which came Monday. Dozens of other nominees to appointments across the government have also been blocked - or slow-walked - by Republicans, which has escalated already deep partisan tensions in the Senate.
"The founding fathers never had a place in the Constitution about filibusters or extended debate," Reid said. "This country operated fairly well for 140 years without filibuster protection."
It is not the first time Reid has threatened such a move. This summer, he decided against making a major change to Senate rules - allowing nominees to proceed on a simple majority vote, rather than 60 currently needed - when Republicans agreed to compromise and approve a series of nominees.
But the fight has returned with the blocked judicial nominees and Reid's tone signaled his frustration. The move would be risky, considering the fragile balance of power in the Senate. If Republicans win six seats next year, they could control the Senate, and Democrats would be at a disadvantage under Reid's possible new rules.
"We know full well the majority could decide to break the rules to change if they so choose," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who rejected suggestions that the GOP is obstructing Democratic nominees.
Aides to Reid said he could make a decision to invoke the so-called nuclear option in the coming weeks. He was telegraphing his intentions, in part, to encourage some Republicans to consider compromising on the president's nominees.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has played the role of deal-maker in previous filibuster fights. He warned Democrats against making such consequential changes to Senate rules.
"I remind again my Democrat friends, what goes around comes around," McCain said. "If you change the rules with a bare majority, then anything goes and that would be a terrible precedent to set."