Smackdown in the Senate!

Via Ezra Klein, here’s Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s letter to his colleague Mitch McConnell about the “nuclear option”:

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mitch:

Thank you for your letter yesterday regarding judicial nominations. I assume that your reply to my March 15 letter is not a substitute for Senator Frist’s promise over a month ago to offer a compromise for resolving this issue. Democrats anxiously await that proposal.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is much important work to be done in the Senate. That is why it is so baffling that Republicans would precipitate this destructive confrontation over the Senate’s decision to reject a small number of judicial nominees. As you well know, the Senate has confirmed 205 of President Bush’s judicial candidates and turned back only ten, a 95% confirmation rate. Ten rejected judges – only seven of whom are currently before the Senate – does not seem reason enough for Republicans to break the Senate rules, violate over 200 years of Senate tradition and thereby impair the ability of Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of real concern to the American people.

For example, you are absolutely right that “our transportation infrastructure needs improving.” That is why I issued a public call last week for the Senate to take up the highway bill. Once we finish the supplemental appropriations bill, the Majority Leader has a clear choice: if he moves to proceed to the highway bill he can allow us to do the work that the American people sent us here to do. If, on the other hand, he chooses to launch what Senator Lott dubbed “the nuclear option,” it will be clear that the Republican agenda is not based on the needs of the American people but rather on the demands of radical ideological elements in the Republican Party base.

I am committed to resolving the dispute over judicial nominations amicably. The first step in that process should be for the Majority Leader to abandon his proposal to break the Senate rules. We should not negotiate under a nuclear cloud.


Democratic Leader

Indeed, surely there’s more important stuff out there for the Senate to do than break rules over a measly seven unqualified judges, no? Yes, yes there is. However, all this talk about a highway bill made me wonder. Highway bills are usually pork-filled grab bags, festivals of goodies that Congress-people can bring home to their districts. Now I’m not a big fan of this little practice, but it seems that the Democrats are placing themselves in a tough bind if Bill Frist pulls the nuclear trigger and the minority party holds up the Senate. Are they going to thwart the highway bill? Are they going to go home to their districts and tell constituents that there will be no pork this year because they decided to make a principled stand on the rule of law and tradition? That actually doesn’t sound like something Democrats would ever do. But I’d be happy to be proved wrong.