In a turnaround, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening Senate Republicans with an obscure (and unprecedented) method of enacting filibuster reform. In a statement to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, the Nevada Democrat said that if he does not secure enough Republican votes within the next 36 hours, he will trigger what is known as the "nuclear option" (alternatively, the "constitutional option"), which would override the established precedent of requiring a supermajority of Senators to change the rules of filibuster, which is the especially annoying tactic used by both sides to delay (and often kill) undesirable legislation. The "nuclear option" requires 51 votes instead of 67, and Reid said Tuesday that he has the votes.
This means two things. One, that Reid is making good on his word from November that he would seek, in whatever way possible, to reform the filibuster maneuver. And two, that his prior stance on the filibuster is no impediment to him seeking reform now. In several statements collected by BuzzFeed in November, Reid inveighed heavily against the "nuclear option" when it was being considered by Senate Republicans in 2005, calling it "un-American." What changed? As far back as May 2012, Reid signaled that, between then and the middle of President Bush's tenure, the filibuster rule had been significantly "abused" and needed to be reformed:
"I have been here in Congress 30 years, but this is a new one. Even bills that [Republicans] agree on, they want to mess around with. In years past, this would have gone through here just like this," Reid said, snapping his fingers.
Still, the "nuclear option" is risky: It's never been tried before, and would establish a new precedent for how the Senate majority controls the tactical strategy of the Senate minority. That's important for Reid to remember now: whatever he heaps on Senate Republicans will be fair game for them to heap, one day, on his own party.