Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid has generated most of the headlines for his willingness to “go nuclear,” specifically his willingness to, as the publication Politico put it, take the “unprecedented step of gutting Senate filibuster rules for presidential nominees on a straight party-line vote.” The move, which alters how the Senate has operated for more than a century, has been condemned by some for embodying the worst in partisan politics. But it has been celebrated by others who believe the hardball tactic is long overdue. Somewhat lost in much of the back and forth over whether this move will enhance or damage Reid’s legacy is the fact that Reid isn’t fully responsible for making the nuclear option a reality.
It appears much of the credit goes to President Obama. According to reports, he personally called Democratic senators on Wednesday to round up their support. The president has not been known to waste his time or his political capital, so this move is significant. While some, namely conservatives, are likely to argue that it proves the president is willing to fight dirty when he’s desperate, to others the move simply means President Obama is finally willing to fight, period.
As previously reported in The Root, President Obama has long-battled criticism from supporters that he is not tough enough, that occasionally we actually need him to be an angry black man. But plenty of supporters and observers have speculated that that is simply not in Barack Obama’s DNA. As I have written before, he is more Arthur Ashe and less Serena Williams. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes people don’t respond to polite pleasantries, but rather to a racket being thrown on the court. That’s exactly what Reid and the president did.
The president channeled Serena for once, and guess what? It worked. His nominees, the ones he could not get confirmed despite trying so hard to be Mr. Nice Guy, are now likely to go through, and the country will be better off because of it. (The confirmation of Mel Watt, who is African American, to the post of head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency has been a particularly contentious process.)
President Obama got tough, and as a result something got done. The only real criticism he should be facing now is the following question: What took him so long?
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.