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Will He Keep His Word and Oppose the Nuclear Option?


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding an effort by the Democratic Majority to alter the rules of the Senate, further marginalizing the minority party in the Senate and the constituents they represent:

"Day after day, I've been coming to the floor to remind the Majority Leader of the commitments he made to the American people in 2011 and again just a few months ago -- that he would not break the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate.

"That he would preserve the rights of the minority in this body. That he would not try to remake the Senate in the image of the House -- something that could change our democracy in a fundamental way. And so, the question remains: will he keep his word?

"Here's what he said on January 27, 2011:

"I will oppose any effort in this Congress or the next to change the Senate's rules other than through the regular order.'

"And here's what he said this year, after I asked him to confirm that the Senate would not consider any rules changes that did not go through the regular order process:

"That is correct. Any other resolutions related to Senate procedure would be subject to a regular order process including consideration by the Rules Committee.'

"Look: a Senator's word -- especially the word of the Majority Leader -- is the currency of the realm here in this chamber. As he said himself:

"Your word is your bond…if you tell [a Republican Senator or a Democratic Senator] you are going to do something, that is the way it is.'

"He is correct. Senators keeping their word -- well, that's just vital to a well-functioning Senate. But it's only part of the equation.

"We also need well-established rules that are clear, fair, and preserve the rights of all Senators -- including those in the minority -- to represent the views of their states and of their constituents.

"That's the other reason why I've been pressing the Majority Leader on this issue. As a matter of principle, holding a Senator to his or her word is important. But so is preserving a Senate that works the way it's supposed to -- and we can't be assured of that until the Majority Leader affirmatively states that he will stay true to the commitments he made.

"Now, I understand my friend the Majority Leader is under a lot of pressure. I've known him for a long time and, deep down, I know he understands the far-reaching consequences of "going nuclear.' I think he actually realizes how terrible an idea that would be. Because once the Senate definitively breaks the rules to change the rules, the pressure to respond in kind will be irresistible to future majorities. The precedent will have been firmly and dramatically set.

"Some Washington Democrats say they just want to change the rules as they relate to nominations, which is why they've been hurtling the Senate toward a manufactured fight over a couple of the President's most controversial nominees. But Republicans have been treating the President's nominees more than fairly. At this point in President Bush's second term, he had a total of 10 judicial confirmations. So far in his second term, President Obama has had 26 judicial nominations confirmed. That's right: 26 to 10.

"And I'd note that, just yesterday, the Senate approved two of those judicial nominees. That leaves just five available to the full Senate to be considered.

"Think about that. Of the 77 federal judicial vacancies, the President hasn't nominated anyone for most of them and only five remain on the Senate's executive calendar. Moreover, only one of those nominees has been waiting more than a month to be considered.

"So it's hard to see this as anything other than pretext for a manufactured crisis. The question is, a crisis to what end?

"Well, one of the reasons the Majority Leader has refrained from changing the rules thus far is this: he understands that majorities are fleeting, but changes to the rules are not. And breaking the rules to change the rules would fundamentally change this Senate.

"Future majorities would look to this precedent. And once deployed, the nuclear option may have fallout in future Congresses, forever altering the deliberative nature of the Senate which has made it the institution where enduring compromises between the parties have been forged."

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