WASHINGTON A showdown approaching, the Senate's top party leaders clashed in unusually personal terms on Thursday over the confirmation - or lack of it - of President Barack Obama's top-level appointments.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., went first, saying Republican obstruction is denying Obama the right to have his team in place. He added it could be said that Republican leader Mitch McConnell had broken his word about permitting confirmations.
"An agreement is a two-way street," Reid said, citing a McConnell promise to move ahead on nominations. "Those were his words. Those were his commitments. Those were his promises. By any objective standard, he has broken them."
McConnell accused Democrats of attempting a power grab, and added that Reid had misquoted him. He ticked off a list of nominees who were confirmed and labeled the situation a "phony crisis."
The Republican leader warned Reid about "sacrificing his reputation and the institution."
"No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate," McConnell said. "Well, if this majority leader caves to the fringes and let's this happen, I'm afraid that's exactly what they'll write... I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and - most importantly - the future of our country before he acts."
As McConnell railed about Reid, the Nevada Democrat sat a few feet away, looking through some papers. A handful of Republicans senators were in the chamber for the remarks.
Reid has threatened to change the Senate's rules to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster against presidential appointments. After meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus Thursday afternoon, Reid said plans on filing cloture on seven of Mr. Obama's nominees next week, including Richard Cordray, the nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reid said he has the support of 51 votes in his caucus to move forward on the "nuclear option" to change Senate rules if Republicans continue to block the nominees.
"I'm going to go to the floor on Tuesday and do what I need to do so this doesn't happen anymore," he said.
Along with Cordray, Reid is filing cloture on on the nominations of Richard Griffin, Jr., to serve on the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB); Sharon Block, to serve on the NRLB; Mark Pearce, to serve on the NRLB; Regina McCarthy to serve as EPA Administrator; Thomas Perez to serves as Labor Secretary; and Fred Hochberg, to serve as President of the Export-Import Bank.
Looking to avert the showdown, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., proposed that Republicans and Democrats meet Tuesday in the old Senate chamber and try to work out their differences. Reid said he had no problem with that proposal.