November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
10 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 (2,690 Responses)
  1. ImvotingforHillary

    The GOP HATES America, especially the black man that runs America and this is why the Dems resorted to this.

    November 22, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  2. Huckleberry7

    Search "Enabling Act of 1933". Enjoy.

    November 22, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  3. David Rivers

    Disgusting. Anyone who supports this is either pathetically ignorant or simply anti-American. The Democratic leadership in this country are nothing but totalitarian radicals running out of control and no more proof is needed than to see 52 votes in favor of this infamy.

    November 22, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  4. Conservatives Are Traitors

    Dems actually grew a pair.

    November 22, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  5. Bob

    so republicans screw themselves again due to their own stupid games, what a surprise..

    November 22, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  6. Willllburrrr

    Funny reading comments about one step closer to a dictatorship, etc etc. The same people who complain about the govt wasting moolah. And this will save moolah by getting through nominations faster and everything related to it getting done quicker. So no, this isn't about dictatorship with the complainers, it's about the fact they can't stand the dems or an African American man as prez. Nothing more.

    November 22, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  7. sailor

    such immature people leading our country. When you try to take down you will be taken down sooner than you think. You all need to grow up and do the job you were sent to do. NONE OF YOU are good role models for your Children or anyone one else. Get our of office if you can't do what you were sent to do. Karma will come back to you some day for sure. Right on REdeye Dog.

    November 22, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  8. Bryan

    Republicans are just horrible horrible people.....I should know, I used to be one.

    November 22, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  9. bspurloc

    tea party doesnt know how to play with toys... when u ABUSE a privilege it gets taken away.
    They can return this back to normal just before the next election. and then take it away if they abuse it again.

    November 22, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  10. Jeffi

    I don't know why the Senate ever had a super majority anyway. It doesn't exist in the House so why in the Senate. Why 60 votes? Why not 70? Why not 59? A majority of 51 should be sufficient.

    November 22, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  11. LJ

    And when the Repubs gain the majority, and there are no filibusters for the minority... just wait to hear the cries of injustice.

    November 22, 2013 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  12. 52pan

    And guess who's going to cry and complain the loudest when it gets used on them? The dems, or dims as some would prefer.

    November 22, 2013 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  13. zippy

    Very short sighted.
    Democrats will be the minority someday.

    November 22, 2013 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  14. John Keimig

    It's long past about time to make this change. The president, by winning a national election, earns the right to appoint nominees of his/her political stripe. The senate's advise-and-consent role clearly applies to rejecting a nominee that cannot pass with a majority. But to stall a nominee forever. That is just plain wrong.
    And it seems to be a bug in an otherwise beautiful system of checks an balances our founding fathers created. The President is not allowed to sit on a law. After a waiting period it becomes law without his signature. To bad they didn't put a similar clock on the Senate with respect to exercising its advise-and-consent role.

    November 22, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  15. NOVA703

    The Republicans have no right to complain. They brought this on by their insistence on blocking every appointment nominee. Now the Senate needs to get to work and fill all those vacancies as soon as possible.

    November 22, 2013 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  16. RIchard Long

    Can't win the game, move the goal posts!

    As the Obama Regime continues it's power grab and stealing US citizen's power of the people.

    November 22, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  17. Joe

    "Dictatorship",...since when is a MAJORITY VOTE a Dictatorship ? Democracy is based on Majority Rule and the Laws that go with it. The idea that the Minority can voice it's opinion (filibuster) is still held for all Legislation other than Presidential appointments. The only thing this "rule change" does is let there finally be yes or no votes on these appointments. The GOP thought to stall and block them thinking the Departments could not function without a "head". This behavior is nothing less than childish temper tantrums because they lost the election. Never in History has the opposition been so dysfunctional as it is today. What's next,...Russian style fisticuffs on the Senate floor if you oppose what someone says ? It's past time for this nonsense to stop.

    November 22, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  18. Diogenes

    Remember...... Turn-about. Is fair play. This law will come back to haunt you ten-fold!

    November 22, 2013 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  19. Frank S

    I don't know what the Senate GOP thought was going to happen. They can bluster, but it can get worse. If they abuse the process on legislation, the Dems can end filibuster on everything, so they should learn a valuable lesson and work to solve problems, not continue to pander to the tea party base.

    November 22, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  20. Dennis F.

    There was a line in the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" that when taken figuratively (definitely NOT literally) sums up what this country needs to do with both the extreme left wing of the Democratic party and the extreme right wing of the Republican party.

    That line is "Shoot them both".

    When the centrists of this country finally overthrow the tyranny of the extremists, perhaps we can begin to move forward again. Until then, it will just be 'same old, same old' …ad nauseam.

    November 22, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  21. bigdoglv

    Change the rules here, change the laws there. What is going on here?

    November 22, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  22. nc_mike

    Suck it up GOP losers. You'll get your turn in 30 years now that your party is going the way of the WHIG party.

    November 22, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  23. Concerned American

    All U.S. Americans should be very concerned....as we are allowing our elected representatives...to destroy the checks and balances that protect the American experience and way of life.. Every Democrat that voted for the nuclear option is unfit to be serving in the Senate...as they have proven to not understand the American Democratic System of Government and the American experience. We may wish to study history and recall what Hitler did in Austria.

    November 22, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  24. Sam

    2014 is coming and Reid is trying to ram what he can through the Senate before the Dems become the minority party. Very sad day for the Republic…..

    November 22, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  25. john

    What a power grab. It looks like the current Democrats in the Senate think the are smarter than ALL of those Senators back 250 some years that resisted this tactic as too destabilizing. These elitist fools are becoming dangerous.

    November 22, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
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