November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
11 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. Doug

    So basically the same rules that apply to our election system are now finally in place in congress? Gee, who would have thought that would make sense?
    Seriously though, these people can get into office on a simple majority vote by the people but once in Congress the rules change? Why?
    Look if you don't like it, then win the next election and change it, OR win the next election and put your people in place. That's the beauty of the American system, nothing lasts forever.
    Wish they would apply these same rules to legislation so Congress can actually pass some bills and get things working again.

    November 22, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  2. JLB

    "....everyone in this chamber knows that if 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."

    That was from an Obama speech given on the senate floor in 2005.

    Another, I was against it, before I was for it, before it was my idea all along moment for the POTUS.

    November 22, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  3. Scott

    Remember this moment when the Republicans have a majority..... The dems will scream bloody murder if this is done to them.

    November 22, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  4. kvan

    They will be crying when they're the minority. Just like with spending Democrats never think of the future they just want instant gratification.

    November 22, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  5. JLB

    “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,”

    That was from Harry Reid in 2005 in a speech on the senate floor.

    November 22, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  6. skinsfan66

    We now have a one party system, IE a dictatorship. The difference in American Democracy from all the others has been the rights and voice of the minoirty has been protected in the Senate since the country was founded. That has now been swept away by the Dems. Welcome to the Soviet Union of America. This is a dark day in the history of our country. I weep for America.

    November 22, 2013 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  7. Charles

    This is not a time honored right! Hell, it wasn't even used until the early 1900's! It reverts the Senate rules back to their original form and purpose by allowing the Senate to vote on nominees. Yes, every president, Dem or GOP, should have this right. When the fillibuster was used only to make a point, it had an effect. Now tea-partiers convinced the rest of the GOP to prevent the president from doing his job. What kind of a psycho thinks it's a good idea to prevent people from voting? Oh yeah, republicans.

    November 22, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  8. scarf

    As much as the Republicans talk about what a bad thing this is, I bet that, whenever they eventually become the majority in the Senate, be it in 2014 or sometime later, they will then decide that the Democrats made a pretty good change in the rules and they'll decide to keep it, thus revealing their own hypocrisy on the topic.

    November 22, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  9. JLB

    “So this President has come to the majority in the Senate and basically said: Change the rules. Do it the way I want it done. And I guess there were not very many voices on the other side of the aisle that acted the way previous generations of Senators have acted and said: Mr. President, we are with you. We support you. But that is a bridge too far. We cannot go there. You have to restrain yourself, Mr. President. We have confirmed 95 percent of your nominees. And if you cannot get 60 votes for a nominee, maybe you should think about who you are sending to us to be confirmed because for a lifetime appointment, 60 votes, bringing together a consensus of Senators from all regions of the country, who look at the same record and draw the same conclusion, means that perhaps that nominee should not be on the Federal bench

    Hillary Clinton, 2005.

    November 22, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  10. Bob

    This is not the Democratic Party I once knew, it has become a far left bunch of political hacks that a spending disease, disengaged with America, power crazy, corrupt and lie constantly with a straight face, they're lying to cover up lies. It literally turns my stomach to hear Obama speak, every word out of his mouth is a lie. I'm through with them.

    November 22, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  11. Jakinak

    Hear that? it's the death knell for the Democratic Majority,,

    November 22, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  12. Larry in Houston

    LOL – guess they must be figuring on being in "power" at least till 2024 ?

    November 22, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  13. Scott

    Everyone is focusing on the wrong part of this. There are only a few extremists who actually engage in the filibusters. But there are plenty of middle-ground senators on both sides. Harry Reid only needed to convince 5 out of 45 Republican senators to override a filibuster. Anyone with a decent platform and reputation would have been able to, as we often see middle voters swing the other way.

    November 22, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. Brian in DC

    Interesting in that Obama was an advocate against this when he was a "present" Senator. They point ot the judicial nominees as the reason why bt in examination of that rhetoric, Bush had more judicial nominees blocked than Obama has. So what's the real reason Dems?

    November 22, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  15. Larry in Houston

    Hate to be a bearer of bad tidings.......but I think they smell something isn't right.......maybe they smell something like a republican congress in November 2014 ? That is possibly the reason for it, what else could it be ? I have a sneaking feeling that the republicans are going to muster enough Votes (no matter what it takes) ( and no matter how much $$$$$ is spent) on getting a total republican congress, in 2014....
    That's why 'ol Harry wants to get things through now.

    November 22, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  16. XXxxMacleodxxXX

    According to a May report from the Congressional Research Service, President Obama had 71.4% of his circuit court nominees approved during his first term, which is slightly better than George W. Bush’s 67.3% level of success during his first term. President Obama also didn't fare the worst when it comes to district court nominees. During his first term, 82.7% of Obama’s district court nominees were approved, George H.W. Bush had 76.9% of his nominees approved. And when it comes to the amount of time it takes for circuit court nominees to get approved, Bush and Obama are actually in surprisingly close company, with Bush (270 days)fairing slightly worse than Obama (240 days)

    November 22, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  17. Tony

    When those pesky laws get in the way of getting what we want, we just change the laws – Today's US Government.

    Checks and balances are in place for a reason, to protect the minority. Without them, this country will not remain whole.

    November 22, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  18. Obama - end

    Obama – Not only are you stupid, you are now percieved as "weak" by your own ilk.....Enjoy your last 3 years – they are going to get very terrible for you and your party.

    November 22, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  19. John Mann

    I don't know why they call it the "nuclear option". Sounds more like the sanity option. The minority is not supposed to rule. So now the majority will rule regarding presidential nominations.

    November 22, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  20. Tom

    Harry Reid has placed the democratic party with the way socialist's work such as Russia's Putin, Cuba's Castro brothers, Venezuela's Chavez and now the new one, Argentina and all of the socialistic countries and how they operate. America better wake up and change the presidency, senate, and congressional democrats and get back to a democracy that was founded by our forefathers.

    November 22, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  21. Imjesayin

    Finally. It's time. This obstructionism for federal judicial appointments has gone on long enough. We're only talking about federal judicial appointments. It's not SCOTUS appointments or even general Senate business. There's no reason to use filibusters so much anyway. Especially for circuit judicial appointments. It's time to put the children back in their place.

    November 22, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  22. troof

    "The circumstances have unfortunately changed".....as in we are in the majority now.....we were willing to compromise as long they they agreed with us 100%.

    November 22, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  23. KAF

    It is amazing to see all the Democratic supporters cheering in Hypocrisy with their joy and the so called demize of Republicans. For some of you to come on here and claim that the GOP is no different than the Nazi's, need to go back and re learn history. You are the ones that are talking like Nazi's, your hatred and vile comments. But the most surprising is that you really show what complete uneducated and dimwitted people you really are. You react the way you are because you truly want to be ruled by a dictator. You beleie EVERYTHING that comes out of Reid and Obama's mouth, for instance Harry Reid on his disdain for the filibusters that have been law as long as we have had a democracy, Reid has not ONCE brought any bill to the floor to vote that came from the Republicans, and FYI, I heard this on both CNN and MSNBC, so you have to believe its true now right?!!?? right???!!!. These are laws and bills that the local people elected their officials to do, Harry Reid is the biggest hypocrit in the world and you that support him look right past any common sense and agree with him. When this gets turned around and bites the Democrats in the butt, you will be on here whining and crying on how the Republicans are so bad for using what Harry Reid has started. And do you know what the educated Democrats, Republicans and Indpendents will say to you, nothing because your rage and disdain will not be worth a comment back. No matter who you support, this is flat out wrong on so many levels, most people cannot comprehend. This is Bad news for everyone, yes that includes the uneducated with no common sense supporters of what is happening!!! GOD help us ALL!!!

    November 22, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  24. p.c.fulton

    Wow! it used to be just Boehner who was cring all the time. Now it's G.O.P. buddies too. NOT only G.O.P. but the republicans who post on this site. The sky is falling idiots.....grow up. You got mad cause you lost the election so you tried to take your ball and go home. Dems and Reid slapped ya down...put you in your place.More sky is falling and cring coming I;m sure. GET OVER IT!!!!! Maybe if you cared about all of us instead or you precious 1%, you could win a presidential election again.

    November 22, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  25. Jo Se

    Listen on you tube to savage nation 11/21 anslysis of what obama is doing with this. If you care about the Constitution and your rights you must be ready and know what is occuring.

    November 22, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108