Reid’s skill as a leader allowed him to essentially eliminate genuine deliberation on the Senate floor while ensuring that the Senate still legislated, a balancing act that his successors have struggled to perform.Reid’s tenure as majority leader set the standard for what senators expect of their leaders. That is, before Reid, senators understood the majority leader’s primary responsibility to be facilitating the participation of interested senators in floor debates and keeping the legislative trains running on time. After Reid, senators understand the majority leader’s primary responsibility to be protecting senators from taking votes they want to avoid, crafting legislative compromises, and structuring the legislative process to ensure that the Senate approves them.
Reid’s leadership skill is evident in his creative use of the Senate’s rules and practices to tightly control the floor and ensure that nothing happened there without his permission. For example, Reid pioneered the now-ubiquitous tactic of filling the amendment tree and filing cloture on bills preemptively once the Senate began debating them. Filling the amendment tree blocks opponents of the bill from offering alternative proposals and protects its supporters from having to cast votes that could be used against them in their future efforts to win re-election. And filing cloture preemptively speeds Senate consideration of legislation and often confronts senators with a fait accompli, forcing them to choose between offering their amendments and passing the underlying bill.
Most controversially, Reid set the precedent for ignoring the Senate’s rules when he could not use them to his advantage. In 2013, Reid led his fellow Democrats to invoke the so-called nuclear option to effectively eliminate the filibuster for most presidential nominations. And McConnell and his fellow Republicans followed in Reid’s footsteps by using the nuclear option to effectively eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations and to shorten the amount of time permitted under the rules after the Senate has invoked cloture on a nominee but before a final confirmation vote.