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- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)
A divided Senate voted to ease the confirmation process for most presidential nominees, a step that limits the ability of Republicans to block Obama’s choices for executive-branch and most judicial posts. Here, we explain the so-called nuclear option. (Updated at 1 p.m.)
What is the nuclear option?
The “nuclear option” refers to a move by the majority party in Senate — in this case the Democrats — to change the Senate rules to allow most executive branch and judicial nominations to be approved with a simple majority – 51 votes — rather than the 60 votes now required. Under longstanding rules, the minority party has been able to block a nomination with just 41 votes, commonly called a filibuster.
Why is it called that?
“Nuclear option” typically refers to an option so drastic it must only be used as a last resort. Former Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.) was the first to use it in this context, and the name has stuck for several reasons. First, changing the Senate rules would both fly in the face of longstanding precedent and likely inflame partisan tensions in the body. Also, the Democrats know that when the majority party becomes the minority party, as inevitably happens, that party would be stripped of most of its leverage, thanks to its own rule change.