Key senator joins filibuster fight
November 19th, 2013
05:20 PM ET
10 months ago

Key senator joins filibuster fight

Washington (CNN) - Supporters of a move to end filibusters of presidential nominees picked up a key ally Tuesday.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a veteran California Democrat, says she has changed her mind and now supports using the so-called "nuclear option" - changing Senate rules over the objections of Republicans to prevent those filibusters. She said she has been persuaded to take the extraordinary step because the public is anxious to have Washington work and "you can't do it if the President can't get a cabinet, a sub-cabinet, judges, commissioners." Filibusters require 60 votes to set aside, a high hurdle in the narrowly divided Senate.

The longtime member of the Judiciary Committee said blocking nominees has "never been as bad as it is now" and blamed "politics" for the GOP-led filibusters of three recent nominees to the important District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

Feinstein made her decision known to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he called her about the issue recently.

It's unclear if proponents now have the 51 votes necessary to change the rules. Reid refused to answer that question at a news conference Tuesday, and he didn't indicate whether he'd actually carry out the "nuclear option."

Typically, 67 votes are needed to make a change in the Senate rules.

Republicans, who have repeatedly urged the majority Democrats not to carry out their threat, argue it is their constitutional right to reject presidential picks.

"If advise and consent is going to mean anything at all then occasionally there's going to be a situation where consent is not given," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who argued the vast majority of President Obama's nominees have been approved. "By any objective standard, we have not been abusing" the filibuster of confirmations.

In the case of the D.C. Circuit, Republicans say the workload for the court doesn't necessitate additional judges at this time.

Republicans warned the use of the "nuclear option" could destroy the working relationship between Democrats and Republicans.

"It would make it very, very difficult going forward," said Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, a member of the GOP leadership. "It's going to have consequences."

"I understand there is going to be blowback," Feinstein said. "We're just going to have to handle it."

In recent weeks a growing number of senior senators have said they are open to changing the rules. They include Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democratic senator. Vice President Joe Biden, who served decades in the Senate and is known to cherish Senate tradition, also said the idea now is worth considering.


Filed under: Dianne Feinstein • Senate
soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    "Let's get back to how the Senate operated for over 200 years, up or down votes on the President's nominees; no matter who the President is, no matter who's in control of the Senate..."–Senator Mitch McConnell, 2005.

    Had a change of heart it seems.

    November 19, 2013 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  2. CTed

    Advise and consent doesn't me 60 votes, it means 51. You don't need to filibuster appointees. You should confirm most, only if there is STRONG objection should they be denied. You should be able to deny all nominees with 41 votes in the Senate. Madison would be rolling in his grave that the filibuster even exists. That a minority of the minority can hold all business of the country hostage is an anathema to a democracy.

    November 19, 2013 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  3. Kenman

    So they're looking for 51 votes when rules changes require 67!? You would think that even this CNN pawn could see the problem with that!

    November 19, 2013 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  4. rich

    It is about time that the Senate Democrats put an end to the republicon obstruction of this congress. This country can not go for even one more year with these republicons obstructing the governing of the United States.

    November 19, 2013 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  5. Rick, I'm Shocked!

    I'm shocked! Harry Reid and the Senate Dems have NEVER used the filibuster?

    Oh, I get it. It was ok to obstruct W, but it is not ok to do so to Obama?

    November 19, 2013 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  6. Mike Buck

    Tom I – Very True! The Democrats blocked President Bush, in another insane move, when he nominated his cleaning lady for the Supreme Court.

    November 19, 2013 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  7. Reckless

    Push the button Harry

    November 19, 2013 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  8. Shadow

    The filibuster is the biggest waste of government time in the House and Senate. It should be done away with, altogether in BOTH the House and Senate for good.

    November 20, 2013 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  9. Chris W

    Why would a check and balance be anything other than a simple majority (51 votes). The idea of a Democracy is you vote in a group of politicians and if you don't like what they do you vote new ones in next time. Since when therefore should a super majority be needed for anything? I do find it laughable that anyone would be worried about the consequences of this potential action. Since when have these two parties started to work together? Simple majority rules and then get some legislation done, do the peoples business....

    November 20, 2013 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  10. ladies first

    Money Is The Root to all Evil! Washington is in pieces Sooo until Big Goverment Quits being bought out The Snowball to Hell will keep on rolling down that big hill.

    November 20, 2013 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  11. Jonathon Powelly

    It seems the number of judges allocated to a court is administrative judgement and those nominees should not be blocked because of politics. What the Republicans are really afraid of is a shift in the balance on the court. Elections are supposed to have consequences except when nominees get filibustered. Time for the Democrats to pull the pin on the nuclear option. When oppositions parties change they will have deal with the consequences of the action taken.

    November 20, 2013 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  12. David

    It is a slippery slope that the Dems are going down.....because when the shift in the Senate swings the other way and the GOP gets control of the Senate and they will at one point or another. It will be the Dems crying foul when the "nuclear option" is used against them when they themselves have held up nominations or bills. The check and balances system in our government is made for a specific reason . So be very wary of what u wish for for it may come to haunt u another day.

    November 20, 2013 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  13. jim

    It's a simple majority (except Clinton) when we elect a President. It's a simple majority when the House votes. it's a simple majority when the Supreme Court votes. Are you beginning to see a patern? Giving any one senator the power to bring the Senate to a crashing halt by using a filibuster, is truly anachronistic. Time for a change.

    November 20, 2013 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  14. m

    YES to the ACA

    November 20, 2013 01:53 am at 1:53 am |
  15. wiseup:

    If a filibuster is such a good deal for checks and balance. why not include the filibuster in the house. Might as well. nothing else gets done. Actually the check and balance is the house and senate.

    November 20, 2013 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  16. king

    its time dems stop allowing repubs to stop bamboozling them with sincerity, they dont have a sincere bone in their bodies, look what they are doing with voters right around the country, denying their constituencies basic healthcare programs leaving them on the side of the street to rot. do you guys really think if repubs was holding the senate right now they wouldn't opted for the nuclear options years ago if dems were being such an ass as they have been for the past 5 years. we all know who the repub obstructionist are and they are dam proud of it.

    November 20, 2013 02:59 am at 2:59 am |
  17. Maripil

    It's about time Democrats take action as the GOP have been total obstructionists in all levels of government!!

    November 20, 2013 04:32 am at 4:32 am |
  18. Maripil

    The GOP have totally abused the power to filibuster!! No judges are confirmed on account of the idiocy of republicans!

    November 20, 2013 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  19. J.V.Hodgson

    Why oh why do we make checks and balances or whatever so complicated.
    Its simple if you oppose a nominee for whatever after approval from a Senate or house committee you have to
    1) State the reason for your opposition loud and clear in writing within 72 hours and get 67% approval for your opposition. Via debate and reconciliation.
    2) If committees cannot get a 60/ 40 majority. It goes automatically to reconciliation for 2 months between house and senate committees and a simple majority of those two committees forces and a final senate vote for just a majority vote.
    There is nothing " nuclear about this idea" simple common sense.
    If we don't AGREE THIS

    November 20, 2013 04:38 am at 4:38 am |
  20. J.V.Hodgson

    Why oh why do we make checks and balances or whatever so complicated.
    Its simple if you oppose a nominee for whatever after approval from a Senate or house committee you have to
    1) State the reason for your opposition loud and clear in writing within 72 hours and get 67% approval for your opposition. Via debate and reconciliation.
    2) If committees cannot get a 60/ 40 majority. It goes automatically to reconciliation for 2 months between house and senate committees and a simple majority of those two committees forces and a final senate vote for just a majority vote.
    There is nothing " nuclear about this idea" simple common sense.
    If we don't AGREE THIS, then dems will do what GOP is doing now + no government at all.
    Hodg40

    November 20, 2013 04:39 am at 4:39 am |
  21. Robert N. constant

    The time has come to let Democracy rule. It should not be possible for a minority of either party to block a free and open vote on any and all measures. What good is the Democratic Process, it a minority has the power to prevent majority rule because it does not agree with the measure in question? Republican Senators are promising "consequences." That sounds like a threat to me. What are they going to do? Secede? Find new ways to impede the function of government as if The United States were the enemy? Bring on the Nuclear option!

    November 20, 2013 05:30 am at 5:30 am |
  22. Say What?

    "Republicans warned the use of the "nuclear option" could destroy the working relationship between Democrats and Republicans."

    Wait, there was working relationship before?? pfft. I never liked the rule to hold up a person because of the filibuster. It should a yea or nay vote and thats it. Not this, one person says filibuster and you have to have a majority of a majority...

    Thats the problem with congress, yea or nay and lets move on!

    November 20, 2013 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
  23. 82ndABNVET

    its funny because if/when the senate falls into republican hands, she will be the first trying to change the law to where it was before.

    there is a reason why we have a divided government, where no one body is in a dictatorship. checks and balances.

    November 20, 2013 07:17 am at 7:17 am |
  24. Richard Steinberg

    Hm? Is everyone arguing that two wrongs make a right? If the democrats have *also* abused the filibuster, isn't it time to get rid of it?

    Checks and balances are important and written into the Constitution. The "right" to filibuster is not. It is a rule chosen by Congress that can be unchosen by Congress. We can argue about which party first abused it, but each time one side abuses it in a new way, the other side does so and we are ratcheting up to the point where absolutely everything gets filibustered.

    November 20, 2013 07:35 am at 7:35 am |
  25. Chuk

    " could destroy the working relationship between Democrats and Republicans". What "working" relationship! The do nothing Republicans are pathetic.

    November 20, 2013 07:50 am at 7:50 am |
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