Did Reid Go Nuclear?

As you may have heard, Senate Majority Leader Reid invoked the “nuclear option” yesterday, thereby laying waste to the Senate and all its traditions. At least that it is how Alexander Bolton of The Hill describes Reid’s actions in response to a Republican motion to suspend the rules with respect to the China currency legislation pending before the Senate. Bolton explains that “Reid and 50 members of his caucus voted to change Senate rules unilaterally to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on uncomfortable amendments after the chamber has voted to move to final passage of the bill.”

David Waldman says that Bolton is “way overstating the case” when he uses the term “nuclear option” to describe Reid’s actions. Waldman seems to believe that the term only applies to an action that eliminates or greatly curtails the filibuster, which did not happen here. But Waldman acknowledges that Reid’s action bears “strong similarities” to the nuclear option and that “a very similar procedure can be used to reverse unfavorable rulings on anything, including the filibuster, and doing so on the subject of the filibuster was what people came to understand as the ‘nuclear option’ way back in 2005.” So his disagreement with Bolton is more semantic than substantive.

There is no formal definition of the “nuclear option” and little point in debating the semantics of the term. The real question is whether yesterday’s action by the Senate was part of the normal process of interpreting and applying its rules, or whether it represented a radical change in that process. In my view, the jury is still out on that question. Here’s why. Continue reading “Did Reid Go Nuclear?”