THE NUCLEAR OPTION

José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: La Red Hispana

In the corridors of power in the White House and the US Capitol, an idea that could change the face of US politics and social policies began to spread rapidly: “the nuclear option.” Understanding the implications of that concept is key because it could have a significant impact on our community in the immediate future.

Under the rules of the United States Senate, 60 senators are required in practice to bring any bill to a final vote. This means that a minority of 41 senators of the Republic have de facto veto power over the decisions of a majority of 59 senators.

On paper, this procedure known as “filibuster” in English forces the two main parties to seek areas of consensus in the major pieces of legislation. In practice, it is a mechanism that has allowed the Senate to be periodically held hostage by a minority of radical senators from both sides.

If the Democrats decide to apply the “nuclear option” to end the “filibuster”, it would open the door to the approval of capital bills, such as new legislation for the regulation of firearms, as a result of the new incidents of armed violence, the comprehensive immigration reform that would legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants and the massive infrastructure plan to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the midst of the pandemic.

 President Biden has left open the possibility of making changes to the rules. Senator for Delaware from 1972 to 2009, when he was chosen by Barack Obama as his vice president, Biden knows first-hand the pernicious effects of the “filibuster,” and how it has been regularly used by both parties to block legislation that has popular support. like immigration reform.

It is, however, a difficult political decision. On the one hand, “moderate” Democrats like Joe Manchin do not support the idea and their vote is crucial. On the other hand, the nuclear option is a two-edged sword. Democrats are currently in control of the White House, enjoying a relatively comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and a meager majority in the Senate. If in the future the Republicans regain control of both houses, they would use their majority to impose nominees or conservative social or budget policies.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican senator from Kentucky and leader of the senators of that party in the Upper House, warned the Democrats that if the nuclear option were put into effect there would be a “nuclear winter”, that is, the Democrats would have the certainty of count on the obstruction of Republicans for the rest of the legislature.

But many of us remember when in the last year of the Obama administration, it was precisely the leader McConnell who threw any bipartisan spirit overboard when he personally boycotted the confirmation of Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court of justice, the current Attorney General Merrick Garland, only for after voting for a Trump nominee in his final year in office.

It seems to me that the “nuclear option” is a legitimate tool of the exercise of power and the Democrats should not worry about Republican threats. If none of the representatives of that party voted in favor of the popular economic relief package, in the midst of a pandemic, what else can you expect.

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