Eyeing Nuclear Response, Senate GOP Fears Playing into Reid’s Hands

by Jonathan Strong

Harry Reid may have detonated a nuclear bomb, but Senate Republicans don’t want a war if it would distract from the disastrous Obamacare rollout, senior GOP aides say.

The importance of keeping Obamacare front-and-center is dominating the internal discussion of how to respond to Reid’s unprecedented decision to abruptly end the filibuster for nominations with a bare-majority vote. It also explains why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was relatively muted in his response, telling reporters, “I don’t think this is a time to be talking about reprisal. I think it’s a time to be sad about what’s been done to the United States Senate.”

“Our guys know that Obamacare is what Dems want to run from; we don’t want to help them,” says a senior GOP leadership aide. 

That’s not to say there hasn’t been any response. Typically ahead of a recess, senators conduct a flurry of left-over business via unanimous consent as senators leave town. Last night, nothing was agreed to.

But high-profile retaliatory strikes are unlikely to happen because Republicans believe it would play right into Reid’s hands, taking Obamacare from the front-pages of newspapers. “Retaliation is exactly what Reid is hoping for,” says one GOP aide.

McConnell and other top Republicans hinted at the approach yesterday in comparing Reid’s bare-knuckle tactics with how Democrats passed Obamacare through Congress.

“It is impossible to change the subject away from Obamacare. Reid is not that good,” adds a former McConnell staffer.

The approach is not without critics. Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee helping McConnell’s primary candidate, criticized McConnell’s response in an e-mail to his group’s members.

“The only way to deter a nuclear attack is to make it clear that the response will be equally devastating,” Hoskins wrote. A McConnell spokeswoman retorted that Hoskins’s argument was “stupid.”

One looming question is whether Reid will move to kill the filibuster for legislation, as well.

On that issue, Republicans are of different minds. One senior aide says, “I don’t think people would be surprised by anything Reid did at this point,” while others suspect Senate Democrats are already having second thoughts about how a post-nuclear Senate will operate.