The Note: The Senate Reaches The Boiling Point

Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • EYEBALL-TO-EYEBALL IN THE SENATE: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has his finger over the nuclear button as the full Senate prepares convene for an unusual private meeting in the ceremonial Old Senate Chamber at 6 p.m. ET tonight to try to find a path through the latest standoff over delayed votes on presidential appointments, ABC's RICK KLEIN notes. Barring an agreement, Reid is threatening to detonate a change to Senate rules that would allow cabinet-level and other presidential appointees (though not judges) to be confirmed by a simple majority vote, not the current de facto threshold of 60 votes. Republicans are threatening to call Reid the worst Senate leader in history if he does it. They're also vaguely warning that they might change more Senate rules if and when they retake control back of the upper chamber.
  • REID'S 'SIMPLE CHANGE': "What we're doing is saying, 'look American people, shouldn't President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?'" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "The 15 people that we filed cloture on that are pending, they've been waiting an average of nine months - nine months. Is that good? Do we want to continue that? So we're going to make a simple change. What we're going to do is say in the future, just like the Constitution outlines, the Constitution's pretty specific, if you want a super majority vote, look at what a veto is or a treaty, but if you want to look at the nomination, you know what the founding fathers said, 'simple majority.' That's what we need."
  • MCCONNELL - 'I HOPE WE'LL COME TO OUR SENSES': "We have an opportunity to pull back from the brink in this joint meeting that we're going to have of all senators in the old senate chamber Monday night," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I hope we'll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate. We have never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of the senate in order to diminish the voices of individual senators. We've never done that. We sure shouldn't start it now, particularly since every one of the President's nominees that would be subject to this rule change have been confirmed."
  • TIMES MAY CHANGE, BUT HYPOCRISY IS FOREVER: 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, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports. 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 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, but eight years later, the two leaders have reversed their positions on the nuclear option. Here is a comparison of each leader's statements on the nuclear option then and now:


ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The venom between the Senate's top two leaders is boiling over. A closed-door meeting of all senators tonight in the Old Senate Chamber will help determine whether Majority Leader Harry Reid invokes the nuclear option this week, opening the door to a broader fight over filibuster rules in the Senate. Will Republicans all stand with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or will a coalition of senators from both parties persuade McConnell and Reid to work together to find a solution to avoid changing Senate rules that will increase the partisan bitterness? The feud between Reid and McConnell is real and the signs look increasingly unlikely that they will stand down from their respective corners.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Assuming for the moment that the nation doesn't entirely take President Obama's initial advice - that the post-Zimmerman-trial period isn't remembered simply for its "calm reflection" - we're in the midst of another moment where Obama will be pulled between roles as the nation's most prominent leader and the nation's most prominent black leader. This has never been a particular comfort zone for Obama, as a candidate or as president. (Remember Don Imus? The "beer summit"? Jesse Jackson's colorful thoughts on candidate Obama's speeches in black churches?) "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," the president said, startlingly, last spring, shortly after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Now, with protests growing and his Justice Department engaged in a hard-to-make federal investigation, pressure will build for a response that balances the multiple roles the president is called on filling.


CIRQUE DU WASHINGTON: AUTHOR MARK LEIBOVICH ON WHAT'S WRONG WITH D.C. If you had any dying embers of respect left for official Washington, author Mark Leibovich smothers them in his new book about all that's wrong with "This Town." Leibovich casts some of Washington's biggest stars, as well as its lesser-known insiders, as characters in his book, telling ABC's SUSAN SAULNY AND YAHOO! NEWS' OLIVIER KNOX he wanted to "hold a mirror to a culture that is essentially in a gilded age." The hard times of the last few years have barely dented the excesses of politicians, lobbyists, and the journalists who cover them. "While people don't like Washington fundamentally, I don't think they have a full cinemagraphic appreciation for like the carnival that's broken out here in recent years, and that's what I tried to do," says Leibovich, who is also the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. Borrowing a phrase from Sen. Tom Coburn, R - Okla., Leibovich says "the permanent feudal class of Washington," comprising elected officials, former elected officials, lobbyists, and the news media, has undergone a transformation for the worse in recent years.


OBAMA ON ZIMMERMAN VERDICT: 'JURY HAS SPOKEN,' CALLS FOR 'CALM REFLECTION'. President Obama called on Americans to observe "calm reflection" after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The White House has rarely commented on the George Zimmerman trial even as it captured national attention, ABC's CHRIS GOOD reports. On Saturday, the jury reached its decision, clearing Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter. "I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken," Obama said, in a written statement released by the White House press office on Sunday. "I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son." Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in February 2012, and while the state brought charges of second-degree murder and argued that Zimmerman "profiled" Martin, who was African American, Zimmerman maintains he shot the teenager in self defense. The case brought national attention to Florida gun policies, specifically the state's "Stand Your Ground" law, which allows people fearing for their lives to use deadly force.

FLASHBACK: Obama commented on Martin's death in March 2012, the month after his shooting. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said during a press conference in the Rose Garden, directing his comments towards Martin's parents. "And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened."

MARTIN FAMILY IN 'DISBELIEF' OVER VERDICT. Trayvon Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump said on "This Week" that the family is "in disbelief" after the jury delivered a "not guilty" verdict on Saturday night in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial, ABC's KARI REA notes. "They are still in disbelief about his death and now they are in disbelief about this verdict," Crump told ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. "They are trying to make sense of it," Crump added. "They want people to know that they're going to continue to fight for the legacy of their son, that he had every right to walk home from the 7-Eleven and not expect to be profiled and followed by a strange man." Sunday, the Martin family attorney said it would be "intellectually dishonest" not to acknowledge the "racial undertones in this case."

HAPPENING TODAY: PRESIDENTS 41 AND 44 MEET. The next meeting of members of the Presidents Club will take place today at the White House, with President Obama hosting former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush to honor the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award. ABC's RICK KLEIN notes that the awards, which highlight volunteer service, were inspired by President Bush 41. Don't expect much in the way of politics from the ailing ex-president, though he did meet with former Rep. Gabby Giffords during her swing through New England to push gun control earlier this month. Obama is making a habit of appearing with presidents named Bush: His trip to Africa included an unusual joint appearance with former President George W. Bush, in Tanzania.

SPITZER SAYS LEAD IN POLL SHOWS VOTERS WANT 'INDEPENDENT VOICE'. Former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who after resigning from office because of a sex scandal, said yesterday that his early lead in New York City's comptroller race shows that voters are beginning to warm to his candidacy."I don't take polls and rely upon them, but the poll numbers reflect that the public is interested in having an independent voice in that position," Spitzer told ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on "This Week." "That is what I promise I will be." Spitzer resigned in 2008 after he was caught patronizing a high dollar prostitution ring. ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes that he announced his candidacy for New York City Comptroller last week, which gave him only four days to collect 3,750 signatures in order to get on the ballot. A Wall Street Journal/Marist poll this week showed Spitzer holding a 42 percent to 33 percent lead over his opponent Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer after only a few days in the race. "Opponents will say all sorts of things, the voters will make that determination," Spitzer said. "When I talk to citizens and they're saying: 'Look, you've erred, you looked the public in the eye five years ago, and you said you believe in accountability. You stepped forward and accepted responsibility.'"

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: OBAMA PLAYS GOLF WITH ESPN HOSTS. Able to play golf with pretty much anyone he wants, President Obama is spent his Saturday on a military course with ESPN's Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, co-hosts of "Pardon the Interruption," ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes. Saturday was Kornheiser's 65th birthday, as was mentioned on the ESPN show Friday. They played at Fort Belvoir, a military base off I-95 about 30 minutes south of the White House. Wilbon and Kornheiser did not ride with the president in his motorcade, which arrived at 10:15 a.m., according to pool reports. On Friday, Wilbon, Kornheiser, and Tony Reali - host of ESPN's "Around the Horn" and PTI's longtime on-air fact-checker - ate lunch at the White House and visited with Obama in the Oval Office.


"HOLDER FALLS SHORT ON OBAMA OPENNESS PLEDGE HE ENFORCES," by Bloomberg's Jim Snyder and Danielle Ivory. "In her four years as the top U.S. diplomat, Hillary Clinton kept a running total of countries visited, miles traveled and hours spent in transit on the State Department website. Still untallied: The bill to taxpayers for her globe-trotting. Bloomberg News last year asked for the details of out-of-town trips for the heads of 57 major departments in fiscal 2011, a test of President Barack Obama's pledge to run the most open government in history. As of July 12, about one-fifth of those surveyed hadn't responded. The State Department is one of five Cabinet offices that have yet to fully comply with requests under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the details and expenses of official travel more than a year after they were filed. … The Justice Department, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the open-government law, took more than one year to comply even though Attorney General Eric Holder has called swift responses to public records petitions an 'essential component' of government transparency. Following repeated queries, the agency provided travel vouchers and then the costs of the trips last week."


FROM THE SPEAKER'S DESK: "IF OBAMACARE IS SO WONDERFUL…" House Speaker John Boehner's office is out with a new blog post today skewering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's comments about Obamacare over the weekend: "Top Democrats have been all sweetness and light about ObamaCare lately despite its increasingly grim prognosis. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took things up a notch on Sunday when he declared in an interview on national television that ObamaCare 'has been wonderful for America.' Well, if ObamaCare is so wonderful for America … why are health care costs "about to explode"? The nation's insurers say premiums will skyrocket under ObamaCare - by an average of double in the individual market, with some rates soaring by more than 400 percent. …why is it causing so many workers to lose their jobs and hours?" Read more:


@russellberman: As Obama, House GOP ready for fights over immigration, fiscal issues, it'll be a battle of weak v. weak.

@tackettdc: The Boston Bombing: How journalists used Twitter to tell the story …

@j_strong: How Boehner's piecemeal strategy on immigration could implode … my latest @NRO

@woodhouseb: He doesn't look a day over 34! RT @Mitch_Stewart: Happy Birthday shout out to @jeremybird. Proud to call you a friend. #35 #downhillfromhere

@waltershapiroPD: Spitzer, greatest truth-teller since "Father I cannot tell a lie" George Washington, claims publication date for his book is "coincidence."