POLITICS

Harry Reid Leaning Toward Filibuster Reform Vote This Week

11/20/2013 12:08 pm 12:08:22 | Updated Nov 20, 2013

WASHINGTON -- It's looking more and more likely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) isn't just ready for filibuster reform, but he's ready to do it this week.

A senior Democratic aide told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that there's "a greater possibility" that Reid will hold a vote this week instead of waiting until after the Senate comes back from recess in December. The proposal that Reid is planning to put on the floor would strip the minority of its ability to filibuster executive and judicial nominees, but wouldn't apply to Supreme Court nominees.

Even Democrats who previously resisted changing filibuster rules through the "nuclear option" -- that is, through the use of arcane Senate procedures to change the rules with just 51 votes instead of the standard two-thirds majority vote -- say they've had it with the GOP obstruction of President Barack Obama's nominees and are ready to go nuclear. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) both flipped positions on Tuesday.

It's still not clear if Reid has the 51 votes to make the change, but it certainly looks close. There are 55 Democrats in total, which means Reid can lose up to four. HuffPost tracked down a number of Democrats on Tuesday to see who remains opposed to making the change, and only one, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), gave a definitive no. A couple of others, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), avoided answering the question altogether.

Beyond Obama and a handful of Senate Democrats, there may be no one in Washington more frustrated with the GOP's blocking of judicial nominees than Kathryn Ruemmler.

As White House counsel, Ruemmler advises Obama on an array of issues, including the judicial confirmation process. There are now 21 nominees who are either currently being filibustered or who were filibustered and ultimately withdrew. Most recently, Republicans blocked all three of Obama's nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, plus another one earlier this year.

Filling vacancies on that court is a huge priority for the president, given the court's broad power to review federal regulations relating to air and water rules, nuclear plant safety, insider trading and, notably, the Affordable Care Act. The court has 11 seats, of which four are filled by GOP-appointed nominees and four are filled by Democrat-appointed nominees. President George W. Bush had four nominees confirmed to the panel during his tenure. By contrast, Obama has only had one.

The president is "watching this very closely," Ruemmler said in a recent interview with HuffPost. Despite all three D.C. Circuit nominees being blocked, "he has every expectation that the Senate is going to do its job and confirm these judges."

Ruemmler demurred when asked for her thoughts on filibuster reform. She noted, though, that the GOP argument about the D.C. Circuit not needing all of its seats filled isn't in line with what even U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has recommended to Congress, on behalf of the U.S. Judicial Conference, in his assessment of the judiciary.

“The Chief Justice said in his biannual evaluation that the D.C. Circuit should have 11 seats," Ruemmler said.

CORRECTION: This article has been edited to change the number of President George W. Bush nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit appeals court to four. An earlier version said five Bush nominees were confirmed.

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