A report at TPM claims that:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday starkly warned Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) not to eliminate the filibuster on presidential nominations, threatening to end the 60-vote threshold for everything, including bills, if he becomes the majority leader.
“There not a doubt in my mind that if the majority breaks the rules of the Senate to change the rules of the Senate with regard to nominations, the next majority will do it for everything,” McConnell said on the floor.
With at least half a dozen key judicial and cabinet nominees pending, all of whom Republicans have problems with, Reid has threatened to invoke the so-called nuclear option to change the rules of the Senate and eliminate the filibuster on nominations — but not anything else.
Backed up by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who echoed his warnings in a floor colloquy Tuesday, McConnell said his hypothetical majority would take it a step further.
And so the Senate is now so dysfunctional that only mutually assured destruction prevents the parties from going nuclear. Of course, this isn't the first time such a threat has been issued. To the contrary, when their roles were reversed, then Minority Leader Reid made precisely the same threat, as David Law and Larry Solum explained back in 2006 (15 J. Contemp. Legal Issues 51):
Yet another possible external cost of the nuclear option for individual Senators could result if the nuclear option were to trigger the senatorial equivalent of “mutually assured destruction.” Senate Minority Leader Reid has already vowed to make the GOP “rue the day” that it tampers with the filibuster, and to “screw things up” throughout the Senate in retaliation. If Senator Reid makes good on his word, Republican senators may find themselves in a Never-Never Land of unending quorum calls, refusal to consent to limits upon debate or amendment, extended debate on whether bills should be debated at all, inexhaustible streams of non-germane amendments, committee paralysis, and whatever other parliamentary mayhem the party of Robert Byrd can muster.
This prospect is a very real one. As I noted back when the Gang of 14 deal saved the filibuster:
Proponents of the nuclear option claim to believe that abolishing the filibuster could be limited to judicial nominations. It's a coin flip as to whether this is naive or disingenuous. It's a slippery slope to abolishing the filibuster as to Presidential nominations or even legislation. Would the GOP be tempted to abolish the filibuster if necessary to put John Bolton at the UN? Or to ram through Social Security reform? Even if the GOP resisted that temptation, what happens the next time the Democrats control the Senate? A GOP-established legislative and institutional precedent for abolishing the filibuster as to judicial nominations would make it all that much easier for the Democrats to do the same as to nominations or legislation.
Today, of course, it is the Democrats who need to take that same prospect into account.
One good thing (for those of us who are fans of the filibuster, as I am) is that the question may not be resolved by the leadership. As Law and Solum explain, going nuclear could have very bad consequences for back benchers:
[Minority party disruptions] might, in turn, trigger even harsher procedural countermeasures by the majority, which could employ the nuclear option to pass rules that would eliminate the need for unanimous consent and centralize power in the Senate leadership, along the present lines of the House of Representatives. But such structural changes might curtail the rewards associated with non-leadership positions in the Senate--including, for example, various powers of patronage currently associated with membership in the Senate. Republican and Democratic senators alike may balk at the erosion of the prized prerogatives that render individual members of the Senate so much more powerful than their counterparts in the House.