WASHINGTON -- The fight over filibusters spilled from the Senate floor to national television on Sunday as Sen. Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart continued sparring over a controversial rules change that could take place this week.
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, sounded like his mind was all but made up on invoking a procedure that would prevent Republicans from filibustering President Barack Obama’s appointees to Cabinet posts and top agency jobs.
“I want everyone to hear this. The changes we are making are very, very minimal,” Reid said on “Meet the Press.” “What we’re doing is saying, ‘Look, American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?’”
Reid said the changes were necessary to allow Obama to complete his team and also reverse a perception of the Senate as a body where nothing can be accomplished.
“Is there anyone in the real world that believes what is going on in Congress is good?” Reid said. “Our approval rating is lower than North Korea’s.”
But Republicans have charged Reid will be doing irreparable harm to the Senate by invoking what has been nicknamed the “nuclear option.” While Senate rules changes normally require 67 votes, Reid has threatened a maneuver that would allow the filibuster rule to be changed by a simple majority of 51 votes.
Once in place, nominees for executive branch posts could be confirmed by a simple majority and not the 60 votes that has allowed Republicans to block some of Obama’s appointees.
“Whoever is the president should have the people on the team that they want,” Reid said.
Also appearing on the show, Sen,. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said the change would “diminish the voices of individual senators.”
“I hope we will come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate,” McConnell said, adding that the process of forcing the change amounted to “changing the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of the Senate.”
While Reid intends the filibuster change apply only to executive branch nominations, Republicans have said there is little that would stop future Senates from broadening it to cover judicial nominations and legislation.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has said the Republicans would do just that whenever they regain Senate control.
One of the first things they would do, Alexander said, is pass legislation to complete the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, a smack at Reid on a project he has fought for years.
The significance of the issue was underscored by Reid’s appearance on “Meet The Press,” the leading Sunday news show watched by opinion-makers. The Nevada senator rarely goes on TV.
Additionally, Reid is scheduled to speak about the filibuster on Monday before the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy think tank.
The Senate debate on filibusters could come to a head on Tuesday, when Reid has scheduled votes on seven Obama appointees who have been delayed, including Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Thomas Perez to become Secretary of Labor and three controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
Senators from both parties are expected to meet on Monday evening in the ceremonial Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol to see if the showdown can be averted.
On other topics during “Meet the Press”:
-- Reid declared abortion to be a “fringe” issue and said he would rather Congress spend its time on other matters.
Asked by host David Gregory whether the Senate would take up a House bill banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, Reid said, “they can offer an amendment. It’s the Senate, and we’ll take it up.”
But, he added. “I think we should deal with the problems that affect this country. We need to do something to help the American working class and stop worrying about fringe issues.”
-- Reid said he accepted the Florida jury’s verdict Saturday acquitting neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, though he indicated he disagreed with it.
“I don’t always agree with what the jury does, but that’s the system and I support this system,” Reid said. “I may feel differently but I wasn’t sitting as a juror, a prosecutor, a defense attorney. I’ll accept the verdict.”
Reid called on Florida to re-examine its “stand your ground” gun law, and said he thought the government may review the case.
“I think the Justice Department is going to take a look at this,” Reid said. “This isn’t over with and I think that’s good. That’s our system. It’s gotten better, not worse.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.