Sen. Harry Reid said Republican obstruction forced him to alter rules governing filibusters that were blocking approval of almost all of President Barack Obama’s appointees to the courts and executive branch posts, killing them.
“We had no choice,” he said. “We were dealing with anarchists — tea party Republicans who don’t believe in government.”
In an interview with the Nevada Appeal on Thursday, the Senate majority leader said he hopes that change, as well as Obama’s refusal to compromise on the debt ceiling and government shutdown, have got it through to the Republican leadership that it’s time to start working with Democrats.
If not, he left the door open to more rules changes, the so-called nuclear options that would further reduce or eliminate the filibuster requiring 60 senators to support moving issues forward for a vote.
“We’ll find out,” Reid said. “We’ve had many conversations. The Republicans have a choice to make.”
Eliminating the filibuster’s 60-vote requirement for appointees was absolutely necessary, Reid said.
“Every president, whether Democrat or Republican, is entitled to have his team,” he said.
Reid said that as the fifth year of Obama’s presidency comes to a close, Obama has been denied his appointees at every level. He said Secretary of State John Kerry told him he has 50 nominees waiting for confirmation, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been unable to get top military appointees confirmed.
In addition, there are dozens of judicial appointees who can now, under the new rule for filibusters, be confirmed by majority vote of 51 senators.
Reid said Republican claims he somehow violated the Constitution and more than 100 years of Senate tradition are wrong.
“There’s nothing in the Constitution about the filibuster,” Reid said. “The rules have been changed 18 times since the ’70s.”
Going forward, Reid said, Republicans face a tough road if they won’t work with Democrats. One of the biggest issues coming, he said, is the impact of sequestration, the automatic cuts to nearly all federal spending programs approved by Congress more than a year ago. The first year saw cuts to social and other non-military programs sought by Republicans, Reid said. The second year, he said, the military will see the big cuts — a $23 billion reduction to military spending while non-military spending actually gets about $1 million back.
He said that fact should bring the GOP, which supports maintaining military spending, to the bargaining table.
“I think we can work something out, a compromise,” Reid said. “That’s the way we used to do things.”
The debt ceiling won’t be a problem, he said, because of changes and the fact that this year’s temporary deal to reopen the government expires in March. Now, rather than an affirmative vote to raise the ceiling, Congress will face a “resolution of disapproval” refusing to raise it. If the measure passed with 51 or more votes, Reid said, “the president could simply veto it.” Overturning that veto would require a two-thirds-majority vote in Congress.
Reid also had high hopes that immigration-reform measures will pass this coming year because, as he told the Las Vegas Sun this week, Speaker John Boehner is up against the wall on that issue.
He said the Republican Party is wrong on both policies affecting Hispanics and Asians, pointing out that Obama received about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2012 election.
“If they ever want to elect another president, they’ve got to change,” he said.
He added that immigration reform “would reduce the debt by a trillion dollars by bringing people into the workplace.”