Associated Press, NPR, CNN repeat false claim that "nuclear option" is a Democratic term


The Associated Press, National Public Radio (NPR), and CNN are the latest media outlets to repeat Republican spin that the term "nuclear option" is the Democrats' description of the Republican-proposed Senate rule change to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations. In fact, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), one of the proposal's leading advocates, coined the term before Republican strategists judged it a liability and urged Senate Republicans to adopt the term "constitutional option" instead.

  • AP reporter Jesse J. Holland falsely reported in a May 18 article that Senate Democrats coined the term "nuclear option":
    "Have all of us retire to the chamber, sit down and talk through this issue to see if there's a way we can resolve this short of this nuclear option," Reid said. His reference to "nuclear option" was to the terminology Democrats have given to Republican threats to curtail their ability to filibuster judicial nominees.
  • On the May 17 broadcast of NPR's Talk of the Nation, guest host Frank Stasio suggested that the Democrats used the word "nuclear" to describe the Republican-proposed Senate rule change to prohibit filibusters of judicial nominations:
    STASIO: And what makes this feel nuclear, as it's been described certainly by the Democrats, is the fact that you have the possibility of the vice president of the United States taking the chair and ruling unconstitutional the filibuster itself or one of the Senate rules. That would be big news, and that's something that appears to be sort of a grand shift -- would be a grand shift for the Senate.
  • On the May 18 edition of CNN's Live From..., CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns -- echoing NBC News correspondent Chip Reid -- redefined the term as the Democratic response to Republican efforts to end the filibuster:
    JOHNS: That suggests, certainly, that the Democrats are on the leading edge now of what we have been referring to as the "nuclear option"; that meaning, of course, that they will slow things down in the United States Senate if Republicans go forward with this plan to try and get rid of the filibuster on judges.
  • On the May 18 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, host Judy Woodruff declared: "So far, the trigger has not been pulled on what Democrats call the 'nuclear option' and Republicans call the 'constitutional option.'"

Republican pollster Frank Luntz, CEO and president of Luntz Research Companies, recently acknowledged that the phrase has been hurting the GOP in the debate surrounding judicial filibusters. "The implication of 'nuclear option' is way too hot and extreme," he said in a May 16 Washington Post article. "Someone comes up with a cute phrase, like 'nuclear option,' and all of a sudden the debate is named. This is an example of how cute phrases can kill."

Posted In
Government, The Judiciary, The Senate
Filibusters/Nuclear Option
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