Frustrated by what he considers Republican obstruction, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday implemented the so-called "nuclear option" to alter chamber rules to restrict the filibuster of judicial and executive branch nominees. Reid's vote was the 51st, passing a change to procedures.
"It's time to change the Senate before this institution become obsolete," Reid said on the Senate floor as senators sat at their desks listening attentively.
Reid, D-Nev., said a string of blocked presidential and judicial nominations highlighted the need to change the Senate's long-standing rules on nominations from a 60-vote threshold to a majority-rules system.
In recent weeks, Senate Democrats have been unable to overcome filibusters on the nominations of Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency - the first time a sitting member of Congress was blocked since 1843 - and three nominees to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Reid railed against Republican filibusters against the nominations of former Rep. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for defense secretary. Hagel was eventually confirmed.
"It's a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominations even when they have no objection to the qualification of the nominee," Reid said. "Instead they block qualified executive branch nominees to circumvent the legislative process."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Reid's move, calling it a Democratic power grab in order to implement President Barack Obama's agenda. Reid and McConnell accused each other of violating an agreement they reached last July to avert a "nuclear option" move.
McConnell likened Reid's desire to change the Senate rules to the promise Obama made about the Affordable Care Act.
"He may have just as well have said 'If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them,'" McConnell said. "Just the way so many Democrats in the administration and Congress now believe that Obamacare is good enough for their constituents, but then when it comes to them, their political allies, their staff, well, of course, that's different."