Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said he will schedule votes next week on a number of President Barack Obama's embattled executive-branch nominees, setting up a showdown with Republicans over rules used to block confirmations.
Unless Republicans permit them all to be confirmed, Reid, a Nevada Democrat, may move to strip Republicans of their ability to block nominees with procedural hurdles known as filibusters, Democratic aides said.
Senate rules require 67 votes to change its rules, including those regarding filibusters. But under a procedural power play known as "the nuclear option," Reid could do it with just 51. His Democrats control the Senate, 54-46.
Their aim would be to reduce to 51 from 60 the number of votes needed to end filibusters on executive branch nominees. A 60-vote threshold would remain for judicial nominees as well as legislation, aides said.
In a heated exchange on the Senate floor, Reid accused Republicans of breaking an agreement reached earlier this year to make the Senate confirmation process more efficient and less hostile.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Reid of concocting "a phony crisis" as an excuse to break his own promise on Senate's rules.
Nominees who may be voted on next week include ones to head the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Board, along with at least three members of the National Labor Relations Board.
"The nuclear option" has been threatened over the years by both Democrats and Republicans to abolish or curb the filibuster.
But it never has been invoked, largely because the Senate majority knows that it will eventually be back in the minority and would want the filibuster in its arsenal.
After Reid's and McConnell's exchange, other Republicans urged calm and suggested that the full Senate meet sometime next week in an effort to resolve differences over how nominees are being treated.
Reid appeared open to the possibility, but made it clear that he wanted Obama's nominees to get confirmation votes. "I want to get this resolved," he said.