When Harry Met Liz (Or How I Learned to Relax and Love the Nuclear Option)

From The Hill:
“Next week Harry Reid is expected to start calling for votes on a range of executive branch nominees. I expect if he can’t get cloture, he will ask the Senate parliamentarian for a change in the rules so he can get the executive branch nominees confirmed,” said Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice and a member of the Fix the Senate Now coalition.


Personal and Confidential
The Honorable Elizabeth MacDonough
United States Senate
Washington, D.C.

Dear Liz:

I am writing you today about a matter of some delicacy. As you know, I have been having a lot of difficulties with the Senate, and with other things, and I am very certain that it is not your policy to add to those difficulties. So I am hoping you can help me out here.

As we are painfully aware, there is a Senate rule that allows a minority to block almost anything it pleases, including nominations that the President sends us. The Senate adopted this rule a long time ago, even before I was in the Senate. About the time Senator Byrd, may he rest in peace, came to the Senate, I think, though it is hard to believe that anything happened that long ago.

Specifically, Senate Rule XXII provides that to “bring to a close the debate upon any measure, motion, [or] other matter pending before the Senate” requires a vote “in the affirmative by three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn.” This sounds like mumbo jumbo to your average Joe, but you and I know that it means that I need 60 votes to shut up the “wacko birds” and get anything done around here. Liz, I don’t have 60 votes. I have 55. Sometimes a couple more, sometimes a couple less, but not 60. You see the problem.

People often ask me why, if this rule is such a big problem, we don’t just change it. The answer, as you well know, is that the framers of Rule XXII thought of that. (By the way, it drives me crazy that the Senate Rules always have to be written in roman numerals- I am sure that this was Byrd’s idea). Rule XXII says that to close debate on a “measure or motion to amend the Senate rules . . . the necessary affirmative vote shall be two-thirds of the Senators present and voting.” That means that to change the rules, I need 67 votes.

Liz, I don’t have 67 votes. I have 55. If I had 67, I wouldn’t need to change the damn rule in the first place. Talk about your Catch XXII! (See what I did there? Get it?)

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