Maybe the confusing label “nuclear option” which has been given to potential procedural maneuvers in the Senate which could lead to a majority-only rewriting on the Senate rules is more apropos than we thought.
During the Cold War, U.S. and Soviet intelligence each analyzed even the most subtle moves of the other side. If Soviet subs moved a few miles closer to the U.S. shores, the Air Force might move its long-range bombers outside their normal hangers and park them on the tarmac. The subs would move farther away and then the planes would roll back into their hangars. Signals had been exchanged. Most of this was invisible to most people and at best, confusing.
Watching the Senate’s leaders execute the delicate dance which is so often a part of the Senate’s approach to difficult confrontations is similarly difficult to interpret.
Yesterday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid exchanged their own signals on the Senate floor. Understandably observers were confused and interpretations varied widely.
For example, Sahil Kapur writing in TPM declared, Reid “rebuffed” McConnell’s “warning not to follow through with his threats to weaken the filibuster for nominations via the nuclear option.” The headline of Greg Sargent’s analysis in Washington Post’s Plum Line declared, “Harry Reid escalates ‘nuclear’ threat.’”
These interpretations were based on a Reid statement off the Senate floor. The majority leader said, “Despite the agreement we reached in January, Republican obstruction on nominees continues unabated. I want to make the Senate work again – that is my commitment.”
Others, like Tom Curry in NBC News First Read read the signals entirely differently. His piece appeared under the headline, “Reid appears to back away from ‘nuclear option’ on filibusters.”
That analysis, which I also heard from other sophisticated insiders in Washington, was based on Reid’s statement on the Senate floor: I am not saying we are going to change the rules, but I am saying we have to do a better job than what is going on around here. This is no threat.”