WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, frustrated by Republicans who have been blocking President Barack Obama's nominees, Thursday moved to introduce the so-called nuclear option.
The controversial move is a rules change that could make a partisan environment even more divisive because it would take away a sacrosanct right for any party in the Senate minority--the right to filibuster.
\"That's why it's time to get the Senate working again,\" Reid said. \"Not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority, but for the good of the United States of America. It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.\"
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke immediately after Reid on the floor of the chamber.
\"The Majority Leader promised over and over again that he wouldn't break the rules of the Senate to change the Senate,\" responded McConnell. \"When Democrats were in the minority they argued strenuously for the very thing they now say we will have to do without, namely the right to extend a debate on lifetime appointments. In other words they believe that one set of rules should apply to them and another set to everybody else.\"
Democratic sources tell CNN that Reid's plan would scrap the Republicans' ability to filibuster executive branch nominees and judges, but exclude U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Under current rules it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. The rule change would allow most Obama nominees to be confirmed by 51 votes--a simple Senate majority.
Typically 67 votes are required to change Senate rules, but under the nuclear option Democrats--who control the chamber with a 55-45 majority--would change those rules with a simple majority vote.
After Reid and McConnell made their opening remarks, Reid moved to a motion to proceed to the reconsideration of Patricia Millett's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans recently blocked that nomination.
After the motion to proceed passed with a simple majority vote, Republicans tried to delay the process by asking to adjourn the Senate until 5 p.m. ET.
But with a majority vote, Democrats defeated that request.
According to a Democratic leadership aide, Reid will next move to break the filibuster of Patricial Millett. This vote needs 60 votes to pass. It's not expected she will get those 60 votes, as she didn't the last time this was voted on a few weeks ago.
Then Reid will make a point of order, arguing that only 51 votes should be required to break a filibuster of a nominee.
The presiding officer, following the existing rules of the Senate, will disagree with Reid and say 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster.
Reid will then appeal the ruling of the chair and ask for a roll call vote on that appeal. Senators will cast votes for or against the appeal. Democrats are expected to prevail with at least 51 votes in favor of Reid's appeal.
This is the nuclear option being carried out. If successful, Republicans will no longer be able to block presidential nominees by requiring 60 votes to move ahead on nominations.
Again, the rules change would not apply to Supreme Court nominees or legislation--only to executive and judicial nominees.
Until now, Reid hasn't necessarily had the support of enough of his own Democratic caucus to pass a rule change. Some Democratic senators are really reluctant to change the rules -- because of reverence for the institution and, more importantly, because they know Democrats will not always be in the majority -- they'll be in the minority one day. The beauty of the way the Senate works, as opposed to the House, is that the minority has more power. The filibuster, a 60 vote hurdle, is one of the biggest weapons in the minority's arsenal.
But Senate veterans like Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California who had been opposed to the nuclear option - changing Senate rules - have changed their minds. Feinstein and others, like fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, now say things are so broken in Washington that the nuclear option may be the only way to fix it.
Many Republicans appear resigned to the fact that this is likely to happen, but argue Democrats are just trying to manufacture a crisis in order to create a distraction from the Obamacare rollout debacle.
\"Sounds to me like Harry Reid is trying to change the subject and if I were taking all the incoming fire that he is taking over Obamacare I'd try to change the subject too,\" House Speaker John Boehner said in his weekly press conference.
\"This changes everything, this changes everything,\" Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told reporters on Capitol Hill.
Vice President Joe Biden, who as Senate President can be the tie-breaking vote when necessary, said Thursday he supports the nuclear option.