by RonK, Seattle
When handling devices of unconventional destructive power, it is wise to design them to discourage unintentional activation ... and likewise to raise barriers to intentional activation by unsound or unauthorized operators.
Fortunately the Frist-Cheney device is equipped with just such a mechanism. When Frist pushes the red button, a handful of GOP moderates can suspend the countdown indefinitely -- without surrendering their ability to activate or defuse the device later.
This gives a (possibly shifting) moderate/institutionalist faction a great deal of power over the pace and eventual outcome of Frist's intended chain reaction.
Frist starts the process by asserting that debate on the Owen confirmation has become dilatory and constitutionally impermissible.
Cheney (presiding) rules in Frist's favor.
Reid raises a point of order that this is a constitutional question, and is therefore debatable (and subject to filibuster).
Cheney rules against Reid's point of order.
Reid appeals the ruling of the chair.
Frist makes a non-debatable motion to table Reid's appeal.
In the "main sequence" Nuclear Option scenario, Republicans then either muster 50 votes to table Reid's appeal (proceeding to the confirmation vote), or Reid musters 51 votes (defeating the motion to table the appeal), and prevailing on the appeal with the same 51 votes (preserving the filibuster and the tradition of rulefulness in Senate proceedings). But at this juncture, there is an alternative.
With the aid of six GOP "prudent defectors", Reid can win his appeal of the ruling of the Chair (as above). Debate on the underlying constitutional question ensues.
Reid can forestall the vote on this question indefinitely, by filibuster, but he can't defeat it or make it go away -- except with support of six Republicans.
If one or more of the Six withholds this support, the Senate remains in a true "Mr. Smith" filibuster, with neither side disposed to yield. Now the Six (probably, but not necessarily, the exact same six as time goes on) are more-or-less in the driver's seat. They can:
- Buy time ... maintaining this stasis as long as they choose, leaning on both sides, bargaining for a non-catastrophic settlement and letting the coffee cool in the saucer.
- They can defeat Frist-Cheney at any time, by voting with Reid and the Democrats on the appeal.
- They can allow Frist-Cheney to prevail at any time, by accepting a similar ruling and tabling the resulting appeal (with all the attendant lawless dirty nuclear fallout).
- They can put pressure on Reid, by announcing their support for cloture votes on the constitutional question. Reid's 45 votes may still maintain the filibuster, but with increasing difficulty as time drags on and counteroffers are negotiated.
The thornier question is whether they can neatly put the constitutional question back in Pandora's Box without deciding it and setting precedent ... but by the time it comes to that, Kagro X should be back with running commentary and analysis.