November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
5 months ago

Obama supports Senate's nuclear option to end some filibusters

Update 5:53 p.m. ET

Washington (CNN) - Senate Democrats dropped the filibuster bomb Thursday, and now the question is what kind of fallout will result from the so-called nuclear option.

By a 52-48 vote, the Senate ended the ability of minority Republicans to continue using filibusters to block some of President Barack Obama's judicial and executive nominations, despite the vehement objections of Republicans.

Majority Democrats then quickly acted on the change by ending a filibuster against one of Obama's nominees for a federal appeals court.

Obama later cited what he called "an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress" during his presidency for the move led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal," Obama said of the change. "And for the sake of future generations, it cannot become normal."

The man who coined the term 'nuclear option' regrets ever pursuing it

Republicans warned the controversial move would worsen the already bitter partisan divide in Washington, complaining it took away a time-honored right for any member of the Senate minority party to filibuster.

"This changes everything, this changes everything," veteran GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona told reporters. He blamed newer Democratic senators who never served as the minority party for pushing the issue, adding: "They succeeded and they will pay a very, very heavy price for it."

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Thursday's maneuvering a diversion from the problem-plagued Obamacare issue that has been giving the White House and Democrats political headaches.

"You'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think," McConnell warned, adding that "the Democratic playbook of broken promises, double standards and raw power - the same playbook that got us Obamacare - has to end. It may take the American people to end it, but it has to end."

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger said Democrats seem to believe that things couldn't get much worse, with judicial vacancies increasing and Republicans increasing their use of filibusters after an agreement earlier this year that cleared some presidential appointees.

Opinion: 'Nuclear option' makes GOP do its job

"I think there is probably a little bit of 'calling your bluff' going on here; that Harry Reid basically threw up his hands and said, enough of this, it's time to do it," Borger said. Now, she added, the question was whether angry Republicans would further harden their positions in the already bitter political climate which she said "will get worse."

Thursday's change affected presidential executive nominations such as ambassadors and agency heads, along with judicial nominations except for Supreme Court appointees.

It did not affect the ability of Republicans to filibuster legislation.

Under the old rules, it took 60 votes to break a filibuster of presidential nominees. The change means a simple Senate majority of 51 now suffices in the chamber Democrats currently control with a 55-45 majority.

The nuclear option deployed by Reid allowed a procedural vote that required a simple majority to change the threshold for approving presidential and judicial nominees, instead of a super majority typically required.

Opinion: What's at stake in power struggle over judges

"It's time to get the Senate working again," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. "Not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority, but for the good of the United States of America. It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete."

Reid followed through on threats dating back years after Republicans blocked three judicial nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, known as the highest court in the land after the Supreme Court.

Both parties have been guilty of political hijinks involving filibusters.

In 2005, Republicans who then held the majority threatened the nuclear option to prevent Democratic filibusters of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees. The confrontation was averted thanks to an agreement by a bipartisan group of 14 senators.

Obama, then a senator, opposed the nuclear option at that time.

"I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules," he said on the Senate floor in 2005. "In the long run it is not a good result for either party. One day Democrats will be in the majority again and this rule change will be no fairer to a Republican minority than it is to a Democratic minority."

Explainer: What's the nuclear option?

Asked about Obama's past stance compared to his support Thursday for Reid's move, White House spokesman Josh Earnest cited increased obstruction of Obama nominees for the need to get the Senate working again.

"The circumstances have unfortunately changed for the worse since 2005," Earnest said, noting that there were 50 judicial vacancies when Obama took office compared to 93 today and that many of the President's nominees have bipartisan support but can't get an up-or-down Senate vote.

Furious Republicans accused Reid of reneging on a pledge against using the nuclear option.

"It is another partisan political maneuver to permit the Democratic majority to do whatever it wants to do, and in this case it is to advance the President's regulatory agenda and the only cure for it that I know is an election," said veteran GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Until now, Reid hadn't necessarily had support from enough of his own Democratic caucus to pass a rules change. Some Democratic senators were reluctant to change the rules because of reverence for the institution and, more importantly, because they know Democrats will not always be in the majority.

Veterans such as Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who had been opposed to the nuclear option to change the Senate rules, recently decided to back Reid's move. Feinstein and others, like fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said things were so broken in Washington that the nuclear option was the only way to fix it.

Three Democrats voted with Republicans on Thursday in opposing the nuclear option - Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

However, Republicans argued Democrats were just trying to manufacture a crisis in order to create a distraction from the Obamacare rollout debacle.

"Sounds to me like Harry Reid is trying to change the subject and if I were taking all the incoming fire that he is taking over Obamacare I'd try to change the subject too," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday.

CNN's Ashley Killough, Lisa Desjardins, Alan Silverleib and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.


Filed under: Congress • Harry Reid • Senate
soundoff (2,692 Responses)
  1. misterflibble1

    It absolutely amazes me the mentality of the people commenting here. You all bring new meaning to the term "Uninformed Voter", seriously! "If you don't agree with my sociopathic right wing thinking, you're a Communist and you hate America." Really??? Why don't you all try listening to yourselves. And while you're at it, go look up some solid facts instead of assuming all the time. Geez guys, come on! Use your heads. I swear that most of you have the memory span of a gold fish as well.

    November 21, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  2. Abuse of power

    My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy. Never heard him or any other President say, "what can the government give to me for free", or "don't ask, we the government will tell you what you need." Sad day today.

    November 21, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  3. Firstname Lastname

    COWARDS!!! Can't take it when you are WRONG! So you change the rules? This is what bullies do when one person stands up and beats them down so hard they can't stand up. So they change the rules so you can't use your arms.

    November 21, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  4. Abuse of power

    "A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." John F. Kennedy. Wow, sounds familiar, huh?

    November 21, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  5. ora pike

    king obama--socialist have a one man rule "for the benefit of the people". Our freedoms are disappearing daily-having obamacare where people who are happy with their insurance-forced to buy from a "company"-that folks under any definition is socialism or dictatorship.

    November 21, 2013 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  6. Rick

    The Grand Obstructionist Party has no one to blame for this but themselves. If they want to act like spoiled little brats, then they should be treated as such. Kudos to Harry Reid for this!

    November 21, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  7. Jules

    One step back to what the founding fathers wanted. If the GOP had not been such obstructionists on everything, it never would have happened. The GOP has continually put party ahead of country and they just got their hands slapped. It should have happened long ago.

    November 21, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  8. fraudPresident

    Obama is the biggest fraud of a President ever seen in any office. His tactics and that of the socialist democrats have greatly damaged our country and desecrated all good men and women who have fought and died for our freedoms. I am looking forward to the Republican majority in 2014 enjoying this new rule change.

    November 21, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  9. Lone wolf

    Wow the Party of Hate and Anger got out maunevered with in the rules of the senate, and now they are crying and throwing out treats. These hate filed people have been playing the the obstruction card at every turn since Obama became a President. These crying hypicrits are the same hate filled politicians that took and oath on the very first day the President was sworn, that they would do everything possible make his Presidency a failure. They do not represent eo what is good in America. They represent everything that is bad! Glad the Dems finally said they had enough of the way business was being conducted by the hate filled right!

    November 21, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  10. J. Sims

    Now can we get drug testing in the congress?

    November 21, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  11. Jules

    I cannot believe that the wingers on this site do not know the history of the 60 vote filibuster. Do a little research guys – this is the way it used to be and this is the way it was intended to be by the founding fathers. You know how you all claim that people abuse the safety net – well the GOP was abusing the 60 vote filibuster and now it's over. And because of the GOP, neither party will be going back to a 60 vote filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  12. ryan

    Because you're in the minority does not give you the right to hold up nominees, or legislation for that matter. I support doing away with filibustering altogether, and have for over 20 years. People chose the government to get work done, not sit around and say "well, we would if we could, but..." The Senate rules for filibustering are the most ridiculous ever, all you have to do is file a form that says you intend to filibuster, and that's that. If you're not going to do away with filibustering entirely, then I think the party electing to do the filibustering should pay the operating expenses for the legislative branch from their general election fund until the filibuster ends. Make it COST something to do NOTHING as elected reps, and maybe they will get some work done.

    November 21, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  13. cfd

    Another nail in the coffin of America

    November 21, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  14. Namebadtobone

    Remember this when republican is in charge. The Dems voted the rule in.

    November 21, 2013 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  15. caesarbc

    This will backfire on Democrats when Republicans gain the majority everywhere. Their haste is actually bringing about the demise of this country through irrational thinking.

    November 21, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  16. Dumbo

    Score another point for the Autocratic Party!

    November 21, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  17. Jules

    no shoes – you need to be factual – the Dems never blocked the president's appointments the way the GOP has done. If you can't play fair, then you need your hands slapped. Of course, the Dems will have to live with it when they are in the minority, too. Bad policy gets passed – vote them out. That's the way it was intended to work.

    November 21, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  18. Brian

    What goes around comes around. Cheer now, if you feel you should. We will remember...

    November 21, 2013 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  19. tc

    the loss of democracy one small step at a time and it's because of both parties, not just the one you don't like but is just exactly like the one you like

    November 21, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  20. Mike

    I wonder if the Democrats are going to be cheering the next time there is a GOP controlled Senate? I bet they will fight to change it back once the GOP has Senate Control.

    November 21, 2013 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  21. Jim

    Quoted for truth!

    Some of the comments here are just as infantile as the politicians who abuse filibustering as a means of damaging our government for their own party's interests. The Democrats did what was RIGHT. There is no excuse for the GOP's ridiculous, unprecendented overuse of filibustering. The Democrats won't regret this whenever they are in the minority again because they don't filibuster even remotely as often as Republicans do. This action doesn't merit revenge, but applause from anyone rational from EITHER party."

    November 21, 2013 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  22. Danno

    Did any of you right wing republicans even read the article? This is strictly in the case of political nominee's it has nothing to do with passing legislation. So the do nothing congress can keep doing nothing.

    November 21, 2013 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  23. MaryM

    This is what happens when you republicans abuse the filibuster. You abuse it, You LOSE it !!!

    November 21, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  24. Jules

    Now I can start sending my donations in to the Dems I support again because actually some work might get done in the Senate. All you people ranting and raving ought to go back and look at the history of this. It was never intended for the purpose that the GOP has been using it for. Don't you remember when Harry Reid threatened this before and then Mitch McConnell said that if he didn't do it the GOP would work with the Dems to get the appointments passed and you know what MCCONNELL LIED!

    November 21, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  25. AmericaStand

    More examples of the Democrats double standard and taking away some of the "voices" of the American people:
    “The threat to change Senate rules is a raw abuse of power and will destroy the very checks and balances our founding fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government" – Harry Reid 2005
    "The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that the majority chooses to end the filibuster. If they choose to change the rules and put an end to Democratic debate,
    then the fighting and the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse." -Obama 2005

    November 21, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
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