With only 51 Senate votes – a simple majority – now needed to clear presidential nominees for cabinet posts and federal judges, the power of the majority has been significantly enhanced.
“There’s no question it’s going to make things more intense” in next year’s races, said Trent Lott, a former Mississippi senator and majority leader.
And while Democrats who’ve been encouraging Reid for years to push the nuclear button rejoiced, many of them acknowledged that it would increase the pressure on the party to retain its majority.
“Now that Senate Democrats have made this decision, it’s absolutely critical that we keep control of the Senate after the 2014 election,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “What happened today reinforced the stakes that are at play.”
President Obama will get a short-term lift for his nominees, judicial and otherwise, but over the immediate horizon, the strong-arm move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to limit filibusters could usher in an era of rank partisan warfare beyond even what Americans have seen in the past five years.
Ultimately, a small group of centrists — Republicans and Democrats — could find the muscle to hold the Senate at bay until bipartisan solutions can be found. But for the foreseeable future, Republicans, wounded and eager to show they have not been stripped of all power, are far more likely to unify against the Democrats who humiliated them in such dramatic fashion.
The decision to press the button on the so-called nuclear option was no doubt cathartic for a Democratic majority driven to distraction by Republican obstructionism. President Obama had predicted his re-election would break the partisan fever gripping Washington, especially since the Tea Party movement swept Republicans to control of the House. It did not.
But the fever is hardly gone. The rule change lowered to a simple 51-vote majority the threshold to clear procedural hurdles on the way to the confirmation of judges and executive nominees. But it did nothing to streamline the gantlet that presidential nominees run. Republicans may not be able to muster the votes to block Democrats on procedure, but they can force every nomination into days of debate between every procedural vote in the Senate book — of which there will be many.