WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid on Monday defended doing away with the Senate filibuster for judgeships and high ranking federal jobs, saying a Republican leader in his shoes would have done the same thing.
In a radio interview, the Senate majority leader laughed when asked if the move he engineered last week will make it more difficult for senators to work in a bipartisan way.
“I’m sorry to smile as you can’t see on radio, but more dysfunction?” he said. “I mean, gee whiz, when you have constitutionally necessary posts like judges who (Republicans) refuse to put in office…”
In Reid’s view, essentially enough was enough after Republicans successfully filibustered New York attorney Caitlin Halligan earlier this year to a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and then three more nominees to the same court in recent weeks.
Republicans said the court’s workload did not justify filling the vacancies, an argument Reid and Democrats rejected as disingenuous. Rather, he said, Republicans didn’t want more Democrats to fill the 11-judge court.
On Thursday, the Nevadan invoked a rare Senate procedure to change the longstanding filibuster rule by a simple majority vote. It was dubbed the “nuclear option” both for its far-reaching impact and for its implications for relations in the once-clubby Senate.
Republicans were incensed at the weakening of minority rights, vowing revenge whenever they regain Senate control. But Reid said comity already had broken down to where President Barack Obama was not being allowed to assemble a team because of systemic GOP moves to block virtually all his nominees.
“We work on collegiality, just like judges do, but there comes a time when collegiality breaks down and you have to do something,” he said in an interview with Diane Rehm, a talk show host on National Public Radio.
Republicans, he said, “rejected any reasonable response to allowing the president to have the team he wants, so I had no choice.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky denounced the move as a Democratic power grab. But Reid said, “because as to what (Republicans) had done, if he had been in my shoes he would have done the same thing.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter.