So, this just happened. As the Senate was preparing to vote on final passage of the China currency legislation (cloture had already been invoked by a 62-38 vote), Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell got into a disagreement over the amendments that Republicans were seeking to add to the bill. When they could not resolve the issue, Reid invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to change the rules of the Senate:
In a shock development Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) triggered a rarely-used procedural option informally called the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules.
The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had appeared to have been a hum-drum legislative knife fight.
Reid appealed a ruling from the chair that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not need consent to force a vote on a motion to suspend the rules to consider an amendment after cloture has already been approved.
A subsequent vote to uphold the ruling failed 48 -51, effectively changes the rules of the Senate to make it all but impossible for the minority party to offers amendments to a piece of legislation after cloture has been invoked. McConnell planned to use the rule to force a vote on President Obama’s jobs bill by offering it as an amendment, but Reid objected.
“This is an outrage,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) amid a kerfuffle on the Senate floor.
“Am I 100 percent confident that I’m right? No. But I feel pretty comfortable with what we’ve done,” Reid said.
UPDATE: Philip Klein has a useful explainer here.
UPDATE II: Reid has postponed all votes until next week. Senators have adjourned for the Columbus Day weekend.