Harry Reid is no longer in Washington, D.C., but he left behind a gift that is guaranteed to keep on giving for his Republican opponents.
There has been a lot of talk in the news about delays in getting President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees confirmed. What we aren’t hearing much about is the fact that Democrats can do next to nothing to stop nominees who have full GOP support. That’s because in the fall of 2013 Reid worked to change Senate rules so that only a simple majority is needed for confirmation.
Reid pushed the so-called “nuclear option” after Republicans blocked some of Obama’s federal judge nominees.
“In the long term, the rule change represents a substantial power shift in a chamber that for more than two centuries has prided itself on affording more rights to the minority party than any other legislative body in the world. Now, a president whose party holds the majority in the Senate is virtually assured of having his nominees approved, with far less opportunity for political obstruction,” reported the Washington Post at the time.
We have to wonder if Reid ever envisioned an outsider like Trump getting elected, and being backed by a majority in both the House and Senate. That it happened before Reid’s seat even got cold must have been a shock. The new minority leader, Sen. Charles Schumer, says he opposed and regrets the move.
Controversial nominees like former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson can be confirmed without any support from Democrats. Indeed, the Secretary of State nominee made it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week with no bipartisan support, after Republican Sen. Marco Rubio set aside his reservations about Tillerson’s ties to Russia and voted to advance his nomination.
The old Senate rules were intended to prevent extreme policy shifts like the ones we will no doubt see under the Trump administration. Big changes are ahead, and Reid is at least partially to thank for that.
His replacement, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, is shaping up to be every bit the pit bull that Reid was – but without the authority that comes with seniority. Cortez Masto has opposed some of the more controversial Trump nominees, including Department of Education pick Betsy DeVos and Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.
Our newest senator is a fighter — as she proved during her tenure as Nevada’s attorney general — and Democrats can be assured that she will stand behind their traditional values with force. As the nation’s first Latina senator she has opposed Trump’s potential action on immigration even before he has formally proposed it.
Still, we expect she will work with Republican Sen. Dean Heller on critical Nevada issues just as Reid did. For example, she demonstrated no opposition to Interior nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Montana. During his confirmation hearing she asserted the importance of Native American rights, controlling wild horse populations, and seeing that Nevada gets enough water from the Colorado River.
We hope our new senator is a free-thinker like Heller who will put Nevada’s interests above party politics. Cortez Masto may not be able to block certain Cabinet nominees because of the rule change approved under Reid, but she can be a strong advocate for our state as Donald Trump redefines the role of the federal government to put “America First.”