In a shocking development Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered a rarely used procedural option informally called the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules.
The Democratic leader had become fed up with Republican demands for votes on motions to suspend the rules after the Senate had voted to end a filibuster.
Reid said these motions, which do not need unanimous consent, amount to a second-round filibuster after the Senate has voted to move to final passage of a measure.
The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation.
Reid appealed a ruling from the chair that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) does not need unanimous consent to force a vote on a motion to suspend the rules to consider amendments after cloture has already been approved.
The chair, which was occupied by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), ruled under the advice of the Senate parliamentarian that Republicans had the right to force a vote on a motion to suspend the rules and proceed to President Obama’s controversial jobs bill.
Republicans planned to use this right of the minority to embarrass Obama by showing that many Democrats do not support his jobs package as originally drafted. But Reid moved to kill their plan by appealing the chair’s ruling, triggering a vote.