Senate showdown on executive nominations goes "nuclear"

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Storm clouds are looming over the U.S. Senate this week, where 1,100 executive nominations remain stalled. A Democratic plan to break the logjam, called by some the "nuclear option," is sparking heated Republican opposition.

The Senate showdown has been building for some time. Just last Thursday, the gloves came off between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"If anyone thinks since the first of this year that the norms and traditions of the senate have been followed by the Republican leader, they are living in gaga land," Reid said of McConnell.

McConnell had the following words to say to the Democrat leader: "If we don't pull back from the brink, here, my friend the majority leader is going to be remembered as the worst leader of the Senate ever."

filibuster capitol building us flag Senator Reid and Senator McConnell CBS

Sunday, Sen. Reid downplayed the impact of his proposed changes.

"No, no I want everyone to hear this. The changes we're making are very, very minimal," he said.

But Reid's plan would involve a historic shift -- changing the rules on the number of votes needed to confirm executive branch nominations.

Democrats want to approve names submitted by President Obama, including nominees to the Labor Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Party leaders at odds over changing Senate rules

Currently, 67 votes are needed to change the rule. Reid wants to change that number to a simple majority: 51.

Sen. McConnell calls the move the "nuclear option."

"We have never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of the senate in order to diminish the voices of individual senators," McConnell said.

The rule change could backfire on Democrats if Republicans regain control of the Senate in next year's election.

"They've got many more of their own members up in 2014 than Republicans, and if the Senate turns worse, and people start to blame incumbents, are they going to blame the Republicans for obstruction or are they going to say a pox on both your houses," said Congressional expert Norm Ornstein.

Monday, all 100 senators have been summoned to a rare closed door meeting with the hopes of diffusing the tension.