After a decade of one political party or the other threatening to employ the nuclear option, Senate Democrats on Thursday pushed the big red button.
Yes, but what really happened?
In short, the Senate voted to change its rules concerning votes on approving or rejecting presidential nominees. Now only a simple majority of senators can overcome a filibuster. Under the old rules, a super-majority of 60 or more votes was required.
That’s it, and, frankly, it’s a stretch to associate this purely procedural and constitutionally correct matter with the world’s most feared weapon of war.
Senate Democrats said they altered the rules to overcome stalling tactics of Republicans, who have taken extraordinary steps to block President Barack Obama’s nominees, both in the courts and among other appointments made by the chief executive.
This is an old complaint.
When in the minority, Democrats have attempted to use the Senate rules to slow down their rivals. Republicans’ use of these objections has reached a high-water mark in the Obama era. It’s safe to assume that Democrats reasoned they had little to lose by making the rule change, which passed Thursday by a vote of 52-48.
The great fear in times past was payback. The side that went nuclear would eventually be in the minority, and then there would be hell to pay. In the never-ending battle between Democrats and Republicans, that prediction will almost certainly come true.
When that day comes, a Republican president and Republican-led Senate will be glad the Senate voted as it did Thursday. Likewise, Democrats will on that day regret their vote.
However, if Americans are lucky, we’ll be spared the overblown rhetoric that describes a legislative rule change as “nuclear.”