NPR political editor lashed out at critics, but reporter Welna seemed to see their point

››› ››› MARCIA KUNTZ

Responding to listener criticism in his April 28 Q&A column, NPR political editor Ken Rudin mocked the "dozens and dozens" of emails he received criticizing NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. On April 25, Welna had reported: "Democrats call a simple majority rules change banning judicial filibuster the 'nuclear option.' "

In fact, the term was coined by Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) to describe a parliamentary maneuver Senate Republicans have threatened to employ that would ban Senate filibusters for judicial nominees. But since GOP strategists have found that voters dislike the term "nuclear option," they have urged Senate Republicans to adopt "constitutional option" instead. Welna's report was one of numerous examples that Media Matters for America has compiled of journalists echoing the Senate Republicans' line that "nuclear option" was the Democrats' term.

In his column, Rudin mocked the emailed criticism, which he described as "often using the exact same language." He characterized the blogs' criticism (in addition to Media Matters, at least two blogs -- here and here -- had noted Welna's statement) as tantamount to an accusation that NPR had joined "the vast right-wing conspiracy":

Some Web logs took NPR to task by saying we were parroting the GOP line by attributing the quote to the Dems, when after all it was Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) who coined the phrase. All David was doing was saying that Democrats were calling it the "nuclear option," which they were. Welna didn't say that the Dems originated the term. He didn't get into its etymology. But suddenly, according to a bunch of blogs, NPR was "bamboozled," joining the vast right-wing conspiracy in attributing the phrase to the Democrats.

But perhaps Welna agreed with his critics. On the April 26 edition of Morning Edition, he filled in the previous day's missing information in a discussion with host Steve Inskeep:

INSKEEP: Remind us what lawmakers mean when they talk about a "nuclear option" here.

WELNA: Well, that expression was first attributed to former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott, and it refers to a parliamentary maneuver under which, if Democrats were to try to block a vote on a judicial nominee, a Republican could rise in the Senate chamber to ask that it be ruled out of order. The Republican chairing the session could rule it as such, and that ruling could be upheld by a simple majority vote. Now, it normally takes a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes rather than a simple majority of 51 votes, to change the Senate's rules. And so the nuclear option refers to the possibly hugely disruptive impact using this maneuver could have on relations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. Democrats -- who today are the only ones who still use the term nuclear option; Republicans have found it a little too unflattering -- the Democrats say that they would use the Senate's rules to slow down much of the Senate's business in retaliation if the nuclear option were exercised.

Nor apparently was Welna simply taking the opportunity afforded by Inskeep's question to provide more information. His subsequent reports on the "nuclear option" have either noted the term's Republican origins or avoided attributing it to either party.

From the April 28 edition of All Things Considered:

WELNA: [Senate Minority Leader Harry] Reid [D-NV] said no proposal from [Majority Leader Bill] Frist [R-TN] would be acceptable if it did not take the nuclear option off the table, a term first coined by a Republican but now used only by Democrats in the Senate to describe doing away with judicial filibusters by a simple majority vote.

From the April 29 edition of All Things Considered:

WELNA: Rather than changing the rules of the Senate with a simple majority vote, doing away with judicial filibusters, the so-called nuclear option that Frist has been threatening to implement for months, Frist proposed another plan.

Posted In
Government, The Judiciary
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