The nuclear option name game

The Republicans are spinning away from the unsavory shorthand for their plan to end the filibuster -- and at least one network reporter is fully spun.

Published April 25, 2005 5:05PM (EDT)

It's all over the blogs, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it here. As Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist inches ever closer to pulling the trigger on the "nuclear option," watch the Republicans try to reframe the debate in an effort to overcome public opposition. The pivot point: the name for the "nuclear option" itself.

The Republicans like to call their plan to kill the filibuster the "constitutional option," and they're trying hard to distance themselves from the less savory term by which the move is generally known. On Sunday, Frist said that if Democrats in the Senate continue to "obstruct" votes on the president's judicial nominees, the Republicans "will consider what opponents call the 'nuclear option.'" But it's not just "opponents" who call the nuclear option the nuclear option. As Atrios notes, Frist seems to have used the term "nuclear option" pretty regularly as recently as November. And as Josh Marshall points out, the New Yorker says that the term was invented not by the Democrats but by none other than former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who understood the explosive nature ofg ending the filibuster. As John McCain, who opposes the nuclear option, once said, "It's not called 'nuclear' for nothing."

But doesn't mean that Frist and other nuclear option supporters won't try to dump the "nuclear" business on the Democrats -- or that their efforts won't work. In fact, as Marshall notes, the spin may be working even better than the Republicans hoped. Appearing with Don Imus today, NBC News correspondent Chip Reid was so well-spun that he used the words "nuclear option" to refer not to what the Republicans may do but to what the Democrats may do in response: "Democrats are saying 'If you're going to do that then we are going to pull the trigger on what we call the nuclear option, meaning we are going to shut this place down,'" Reid said. "It's like a game of chicken this week, they are speeding at each other at a hundred miles an hour, the Republicans threatening this change of the rules. The Democrats threatening the nuclear option if they do it, and we are just waiting to see if one side blinks."

We're waiting to see if Reid sets the record straight.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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