The Tipping Point?
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I have a theory about Congress, which is that there is often a moment when the effective majority switches, when the minority takes control of the agenda well before an election. It happened in 1994 when Gingrich forced the Crime Bill back to conference. It happened in 1996 when Kennedy forced the Senate to take up the minimum wage increase. After those events, the majority never quite had control of the agenda again.
I think the same thing just happened today when Harry Reid took the Senate into closed session to force a discussion of the delayed Intelligence Committee report on misuse of intelligence.
Bill Frist's ability to run the institution now lies completely in ruins.
This has implications for the politics of Plamegate and Iraq, of course, but it will affect other questions as well. One of them is the Nuclear Option. The conventional wisdom seems to be that if Democrats try to filibuster Alito, the Republicans in the "Gang of 14" will consider the deal broken and vote for the Nuclear Option.
Some of them may. But to pull off the Nuclear Option banning filibusters on judicial nominations will still require an extraordinary exercise of leadership and party discipline to force Senators to do something many of them don't want to do. Frist couldn't quite pull it off five months ago, he sure can't do it now. There are plenty of Republicans who weren't part of the Gang of 14 but who did not want to have to vote for the Nuclear Option back in May and were very glad to see it go away. (Specter and Ted Stevens come to mind.) They definitely don't want to now, and Frist no longer has any leverage to make them do it. And some others might wonder why they would want to end filibusters 13 months before they risk losing control of the institution.