Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
Full Flop
Reid
On changing the rules for filibusters on presidential nominees

Harry Reid on Thursday, November 21st, 2013 in speeches

Harry Reid among flip-floppers on Senate's 'nuclear option'

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., and President Barack Obama on changing the rules for filibusters on presidential nominees.

"What they are attempting to do in this instance is really too bad. It will change this body forever. We will be an extension of the House of Representatives, where a simple majority there can determine everything."

Sen. Harry Reid, remarks on Senate floor, May 23, 2005

"The Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change, as it has over the history of this great country. To the average American, adapting the rules to make the Senate work again is just common sense. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about making Washington work — regardless of who is in the White House or who controls the Senate.

Sen. Harry Reid, remarks on Senate floor, Nov. 21, 2013

After years of threats and retreats by both parties, the Democratic Senate majority on Nov. 21, 2013, enacted a controversial rule change called the "nuclear option."

The change eliminated the filibuster — a blockage of floor action, typically by the chamber’s minority party — for executive branch nominations as well as judicial appointments short of the Supreme Court. Under the new rule, the Senate only needs a 51-vote majority instead of a 60-vote supermajority to end a filibuster and move to a final vote on a nomination.

The question of whether to change the rule has long divided the chamber’s majority and its minority. In fact, supporting or opposing the "nuclear option" has been much more closely linked to a senator’s position in the majority or the minority than whether they’re a Republican or Democrat.

This means that both sides in this recent faceoff made different arguments than they had in previous iterations of the battle.

The rule change was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and was implemented with the support of all but a few Democrats and no Republicans. Yet Reid had strongly condemned the nuclear option when he was still in the minority. Time to take out the Flip-O-Meter!

PolitiFact’s Flip-O-Meter rates politicians' consistency on particular topics from No Flip to Full Flop. The meter is not intended to pass judgment on whether the change is justified or not. It simply looks at whether they did, indeed, change their stated position.

We’ll take a look back to 2005, when the partisan lineup was substantially different. President George W. Bush had recently won a second term, while his fellow Republicans had a majority in the Senate. (The House was also controlled by Republicans, but the House isn’t directly involved in the filibuster fight.)

In the Senate, the Democratic minority had filibustered a number of Bush’s judicial appointments, displeasing Republicans, who seriously considered implementing the nuclear option that would allow them to confirm judges with a simple majority.

The effort drew the outrage of Democrats, among them then-Minority Leader Reid.

"You should not be able to come in here and change willy-nilly a rule of the Senate," Reid said on the Senate floor in May 2005.

Reid was afraid how a nuclear option could undermine the power of the Senate. "What they are attempting to do in this instance is really too bad. It will change this body forever," he said. "We will be an extension of the House of Representatives, where a simple majority there can determine everything."

The threat to go nuclear was eventually rescinded when a bipartisan group of senators – the "Gang of 14" – pledged to block the effort. Seven Democrats agreed to no longer support their party’s filibusters on judicial nominees, while seven Republicans promised not to vote with their colleagues to invoke the nuclear option.

In 2008, when Reid was already the Senate majority leader, he discussed the 2005 events in an interview with C-SPAN. He continued to condemn the fact that the Republicans even contemplated using the nuclear option: "The Senate was set up to be different, that was the genius, the vision of our Founding Fathers. … That's why you have the ability to filibuster, and to terminate filibuster. They wanted to get rid of all of that," Reid said.  

Then he was asked if he would ever consider invoking the nuclear option himself: "As long as I am the leader, the answer’s no," Reid promised. "I think we should just forget that. That is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never ever get to that again because I really do believe it will ruin our country."

Fast-forward to 2013. Now, Democrats held the White House and a Senate majority. The Republican minority had been stalling nominations and appointments by Obama, including filibustering the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense. Senate Democrats decided to go nuclear after the Senate GOP made clear that they had no intention of allowing three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to be filled.

At that point, Senate Democrats took the opposite view they had taken in 2005. Led by Majority Leader Reid himself, they successfully invoked the nuclear option in a near-party-line vote, 52-48.

Before the vote, Reid explained his plan on the Senate floor: "The Senate is a living thing, and to survive it must change, as it has over the history of this great country … This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about making Washington work — regardless of who is in the White House or who controls the Senate," Reid said.

Then he added: "It is time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete."

Our ruling

In 2005, Reid strongly condemned a proposed Senate rule change by the Republican majority. This week, with a Democratic majority, he proposed it himself. We rate this a Full Flop.