Harry Reid's suppleness on the nuclear option

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid devoted an entire chapter of his autobiography to something he considered a legislative obscenity: "The Nuclear Option"

Reid thought that what the GOP was threatening to do in 2005 was so inimical to what the Founders had in mind when they created the U.S. Senate that he would devote 24 out of his book's 303 pages to what had occurred. If the apocalyptic language he uses in Chapter 7 sounds familiar, it is because similar phrases have been hurled at Reid as he threatens to....invoke the nuclear option.

Some examples from "The Good Fight," Reid's book with Esquire's Mark Warren:

"It is the genius of the founders that they conceived the Senate as a solution to the small state/big state problem." (Uh oh. Sounds like Dean Heller and those Republicans warning about Yucca Mountain.)

"And once you opened that Pandora's box, it was just a matter of time befroe a Senate leader who couldn't get his way on something moved to eliminate the the filibuster for regular busienss as well." (If that applied to judicial filibusters in 2005, why doesn't the nose-under-the-tent argument apply today, too?)

"If even the most controversial nominee could simply be rubber-stamped by a simple majority, advise-and-consent would be gutted." (So if Reid's new plan would apply to executive branch nominees only.....)

"Future generations be damned." (Indeed.)

After his book was published, in a priceless to and fro with ex-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Reid talks about how he would never allow the nuclear option so long as he is leader because "it would ruin the country."

Reid argues in his book that what the Republicans were doing on a handful of judicial nominees was outrageous because they were "willing to throw the Senate overboard to side with a man (Bush 43) who, it was clear, was becoming one of the worst Presidents in our history." Reid said the nuclear option was "Karl Rove's deal" and the majority leader called Bush, who had denied he backed it, a liar (for the second time) after Vice President Dick Cheney publicly endorsed the nuclear option.

Chapter 7 is quite the passionate defense of tradition -- it would be too bad a pun to say it looks bankrupt now because Reid clearly wanted to do anything to head off the use of a majority vote to confirm anyone.

That standoff ended with a memorandum of understanding to avoid the nuclear option by considering certain judicial nominees and not others. Past is prologue?

In his excellent piece Friday,ThinkProgress' Ian Millhiser takes the GOP to task for abusing the filibuster in recent years, complete with graphs. But he also points out that the deal the Gang of 14 reached in 2005 was a "near total surrender (by the Democrats) to Republican demands," agreeing to allow three controversial judicial nominees to be confirmed. And: "As an added bonus for Republicans, this agreement left the filibuster intact, thus allowing them to turn it against President Obama."

Reid describes the deal much differently in his book, with top aide Susan McCue even telling him to "Stop smiling so much. Don't gloat." Reid was thrilled because he had preserved the Senate's rules and not allowed the nuclear option to be invoked.

Millhiser points out in his piece that while the Democrats didn't want to go nuclear in 2005, "circumstances have changed quite a bit since then." And with agencies essentially shut down or paralyzed with nominees in limbo, he argues "robust reform is more likely today than it has ever been. And that will lead to a far more functional government than the one we have under Mitch McConnell’s preferred regime."

Of course, there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around. Reid today is a mirror-image of McConnell in 2005.

McConnell, insisting in 2013 that Reid will kill the Senate, had this to say on the floor during the debate eight years ago:  "Despite the incredulous protestations of our Democratic colleagues, the Senate has repeatedly adjusted its rules as circumstances dictate. The first Senate adopted its rules by majority vote, rules, I might add, which specifically provided a means to end debate instantly by simple majority vote. That was the first Senate way back at the beginning of our country. That was Senate rule VIII, the ability to move the previous question and end debate.”

What is amazing, I discovered as I re-read Reid's chapter, is how closely the rhetoric of 2005 accusing Majority Leader Bill Frist of doing the religious right's bidding parallels the current attacks on Reid for being in the pocket of Big Labor. And the arguments both times are the same: Don't let partisan genuflecting kill the Senate.

Yes, the times and circumstances are different. But the battle over the nuclear option isn't so much a good fight as a good, partisan one.