Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the possibility of a mid-session rules change on the Senate floor Thursday, suggesting that he and Democrats were ready to explore using the "nuclear option" to prevent Republicans from filibustering White House nominees to agency and cabinet positions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly believes Reid is about to destroy the Senate. Here's a transcript of his speech, as prepared for delivery:
“Senate Democrats are gearing up today to make one of the most consequential changes to the United States Senate in the history of our nation. And I guarantee you, it is a decision that, if they actually go through with it, they will live to regret.
“It’s an open secret at this point that Big Labor and others on the Left are putting a lot of pressure on Senate Democrats to change the rules of the Senate – and to do so by breaking the rules.
“That would violate every protection of minority rights that have defined the United States Senate for as long as anyone can remember.
“Let me assure you: this Pandora’s Box, once opened, will be utilized again and again by future majorities – and it will make the meaningful consensus-building that has served our nation so well a relic of the past.
“The short-term issue that’s triggered this dangerous and far-reaching proposal is simple enough: the Hard-Left is so convinced that every one of the President’s nominees should just sail through the confirmation process, that they’re willing to do permanent, irreversible damage to this institution in order to get their way. And they've apparently convinced the Majority Leader to do their bidding as they hijack the Senate.
“They’re not interested in checks and balances. They’re not interested in advice and consent. They’re not even interested in what this would mean down the road when Republicans are the ones making the nominations. They want the power. They want it now. And they don’t care about the consequences.
“This ends-justifies-the-means ethos has been resisted by basically every Senate Leader in the past, and it's a clear and unequivocal violation of the public assurances that the current Majority Leader made to the entire Senate, his constituents, and to the American people just a few months ago. What’s worse, we got to this point on the basis of a fairy tale.
“Obviously, the Left needed an excuse to justify such an unprecedented power grab, so they simply made up a story about Republicans blocking the President’s nominees. But here’s the real story: almost nothing about this tale, so often repeated around here, holds up to scrutiny. Let's look at the facts.
“Since this President first took office, the Senate has confirmed 1,560 people — 1,560.
“The Senate has confirmed every single one of the Cabinet nominees that has been brought up for a vote this year — every single one.
“The President has gotten nearly three times as many judges confirmed at this point in his second term as President Bush. Here's the point.
“What this whole so-called crisis boils down to — what it all comes down to — are three nominees that the President unlawfully appointed, as confirmed by the courts. And one of those nominees had been held up by inaction over at the White House related to structural reforms that the Administration – and even the nominee himself – now say they are willing to work with us on.
“The fact is, we’ve been confirming lawfully nominated folks routinely and consistently.
“The Secretary of Energy was just confirmed, 97 to 0.
“The Secretary of the Interior, 87 to 11.
“The Secretary of the Treasury, 71 to 26.
“The Secretary of State was confirmed, 94 to 3 — just a few days after the Senate got his nomination.
“The Secretary of Commerce was confirmed, 97 to 1.
“The Secretary of Transportation was confirmed, 100 to 0.
“The Director of the Office of Management and Budget was confirmed, 96 to 0.
“The Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was confirmed 91 to 7.
“The Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission was confirmed by voice vote – in other words, unanimously.
“And what about the nominees still awaiting confirmation who have not been unlawfully appointed? Well, the Senate is ready to vote on them too, and, regretfully in my view, all of them already appear to have the votes to be confirmed.
“So the Majority Leader could have already scheduled votes if that’s really what he wanted to have happen.
“Secretary of Labor.
“Administrator of the EPA.
“The NLRB nominees who were not unlawfully appointed.
“And, as I said, pending the expected negotiations on reforms to the CFPB, the Senate could likely confirm a Chairman to that position too.
“So let’s be honest about what’s actually going on here. The only crisis here is the crisis that Democrats are creating with their threats to fundamentally change the Senate — something the Majority Leader said just a few years ago he would ‘never, ever consider.’ And here’s why he said that — because, to quote him again, going down this road is ultimately about ‘removing the last check in Washington against a complete abuse of power’.
“Those are the words the Majority Leader used himself, in describing the very thing he's now threatening to do.
“So let me sum up once what’s going on here: Senate Democrats are getting ready to do permanent damage to this body to confirm three unconstitutionally appointed nominees by a simple majority vote.
“If this isn’t the definition of a power grab, I don’t know what is: the President appoints three people unconstitutionally. The second highest court in the land confirms that they were unlawfully appointed. And Senate Democrats want to break the rules of the Senate to confirm them.
“This isn’t the story that Democrats like to tell, but it’s the truth. This entire phony crisis boils down to these three unlawful nominees.
“The Democrats say we’re holding up others. It’s not true. The truth is, if there’s anyone to blame for holding things up in the Senate, it’s the Democrat Majority.
“They’re the ones blocking nearly 30 fast-track nominations, many of which Republicans have already agreed to confirm unanimously. And they’re the ones – Democrats – who have yet to schedule votes on the McCarthy and Perez nominations, despite the fact that both of these highly controversial nominees already have enough votes to clear a 60-vote hurdle.
“I don’t like that fact, and I certainly won’t be voting for either nominee. Tom Perez, in particular, is a far-left ideologue whose record of bending the rules to achieve his ends is deeply concerning to me, and just one of the reasons I plan to vote against him. But to pretend that the power to confirm those folks lies in the hands of anyone but the Majority Leader, well, it’s totally disingenuous.
“The White House knows this. And the Majority Leader would know it too if he spent a little more time working with his colleagues in a collegial way and a little less time trying to undermine and marginalize them.
“No, the real reason, as I said, that the Far-Left and Big Labor are leaning hard on Democrats to ‘go nuclear’, and that the Majority Leader is about to sacrifice his reputation and this institution to go along with it, is because what they really want is for the Senate to ratify the President’s unconstitutional decision to illegally appoint nominees to the NLRB and the CFPB without the input of the Senate.
“They know they can’t get that done under the current rules, and they know time isn’t on their side. The second highest court in the land ruled unanimously that President Obama had no power to do what he did. Another court has since concurred, and now the Supreme Court is set to hear the case in just a few months.
“So this isn’t really a fight over nominees at all. It’s a fight over these illegal, unconstitutional nominees. It’s just laughable to think that Democrats would ever agree to such a thing if we were talking about a Republican President’s unlawful nominees. And it’s equally irrational to think we’d go along with this. In fact, no Senator, regardless of party, should ever consider ceding our Constitutional duties in such a way.
“Prior to the election, I advised the Romney team that if he won and I was ever elected Majority Leader, I would defend the Senate first in these battles. That is the precedent set by former Majority Leaders like Robert Byrd, who revered this institution because they knew what it was to be both in the majority and the minority.
“It's what the best leaders of the Senate have always done. It's absolutely tragic to think those days may be over.
“So here are the battle lines. On one side are people who think that Presidents should have the power to unconstitutionally ignore Congress and their constituents – people who believe in it so firmly, they’re willing to irreparably damage the Senate to ensure they get their way. They’re willing to do something the Majority Leader himself said would contribute to the ruination of our country.
“And on the other side are the folks in my conference — and even some Democrats with the courage to speak up against this power grab. We’re the folks who believe deeply that a President of any party should work within the bounds of the Constitution, and that Senators of both parties should fulfill their own constitutional obligations to thoroughly vet nominees. But we also believe in giving those nominees a fair hearing. And if you look at the facts, you’ll see we’ve already been doing just that.
“As Senator Alexander noted, no Majority Leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate.
“Well, if this Majority Leader caves to the fringes and let’s this happen, I’m afraid that’s exactly what they’ll write. Because, in his own words on the Senate, ‘break[ing] the rules to change the rules is un-American.’
“I just hope the Majority Leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and – most importantly – the future of our country before he acts.”
Watch McConnell's speech above