Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have just landed an influential ally on the right in his potential new bid to reform the Senate's filibuster: the American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein.
Ornstein, who in the past has opposed the so-called "nuclear option" of changing Senate rules with a simple majority, wrote Thursday in The Atlantic that after watching Republicans subject President Barack Obama to record delays for his judicial and administrative nominees, he was beginning to see things Reid's way.
Ornstein said what put him over the edge was watching Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) declare last week that Obama was trying to "pack" the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by trying to fill three vacant seats.
"Packing" was the phrase used to describe Franklin Roosevelt's bid to get favorable decisions out of the Supreme Court by expanding the number of justices and naming judges who agreed with him. It infamously failed, and Ornstein said the comparison actually made him laugh.
"I laughed for several reasons. One was wondering whether a senior senator and longtime member of the Judiciary Committee really had no idea what court packing is, or was he reaching for new heights of disingenuousness: How could a move by a president simply to fill long-standing existing vacancies on federal courts be termed court packing?" Ornstein wrote.
Given the historically unprecedented level of GOP obstruction, Ornstein argued that even though he is still uncomfortable with the nuclear option, the time may have come to use it. And Republicans would only have themselves to blame.
The fallout from such a move is unknown but would be substantial and deleterious. It would be far better to return to regular order, and to the use of filibusters as rare events, not routine ones. But if senators who know better -- like Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Saxby Chambliss -- jump when McConnell tells them and continue to obstruct nominations, they should expect to reap the whirlwind. And they, and their colleagues, will be the ones responsible for the damage done.
Some Senate insiders have told The Huffington Post that they suspect Reid is only floating a new major reform battle as a tactic to get a few more nominations through. But having a conservative like Ornstein come out on Reid's side could give the majority leader cover if he decides to go further.
"It speaks to the current level of dysfunction that longtime nonpartisan Washington observers like Ornstein are speaking out," said George Kohl, the senior director of the Communications Workers of America, and a member of the Fix the Senate Now coalition that favors filibuster reform. "They know that what we are witnessing is not normal and threatens the basic functioning of the Senate."