November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
8 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. Nagu Hu Phart

    "It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete." Appropriate context or not, its the first thing Reid has said in a long time, that is inarguable.

    November 21, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  2. lewtwo

    >> Many Republicans appear resigned to the fact that this is likely to happen <<
    They can credit Carnival Cruze with that.

    November 21, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  3. Really?

    I hope it passes. Come next November this will bite Reid in the foot and it will be wonderful. Nothing is funnier than a squealing democrat. People have just had a sneak peek of what's in the new healthcare law. Wait until we find out all the perks they added to it.

    November 21, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. Lardeau

    Here we go again !!!!!!!!!!!! Round and round the mulberry bush !!!!!!!!!! The system as it is now simply is NOT working efficiently. WHO elects these guys ???

    November 21, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. vbscript2

    "And you right wing GOP Obstructionists don't think you would do the same if the circumstances were the other way around"

    Things were the other way around, just a few years ago when the Democratic minority in the Senate was filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees (who, incidentally, were much more reasonable, non-partisan choices than Obama's.) The Republicans opted not to do this, though. Unfortunately, the Democrats want so badly to pack the courts with people who will vote according to their ideology rather than according to the law, that they're willing to do the same thing in the Senate in order to get those people on the courts. Anyone who knowingly votes in favor of Reid's proposal should be deemed in violation of their oath of office (which they would be) and unqualified to continue in their role in the Senate. Constitutional democracy does not and cannot work when those sworn to uphold and in charge of enforcing the Constitution willingly choose not to do so.

    November 21, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. callmecrazy

    Republicans have abused the rules of the house so they should loose the right to filibuster. They are using their own nuclear option of scorched Earth and are destroying this country. I say nuke 'em.

    November 21, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  7. runswithbeer

    Senate rules are made by the Senate majority and changed by the Senate Majority. That's the Constitution. It's the Republican usage of the "Filibuster" as a tool to completely block most all Senate business far more than anytime in Senate history that has forced the Senate Majority to FINALLY STAND UP. The President has a Constitutional Right to appoint and the MINORITY Senate is blocking his every move. That is NOT CONSTITUTIONAL. Not by a long shot. The Senate should change the filibuster rules to match those here in Texas that Wendy had to abide by. Stand the whole time and stay on subject.

    November 21, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  8. Eddie Soto

    Wow what a novel idea.

    A simple majority passes legislation.

    The move by Reid is needed desperately.

    The Republican have invoked the filibuster/cloture over 435 times in less than five years since Obama came into office. This is a fact.

    This is more times than the filibuster/cloture was used in all of the 20th century by both parties combined.

    A complete blocking of the ability for this President and his party to govern.

    This move is desperately need as it will allow our government to be able to govern.

    The filibuster was originally intended only to be used when amending the constitution and I agree to amend the constitution you need 60 votes. It was never intended or foreseen by our founding forefathers to be used the way Republicans have been using it.

    Republicans no longer respect the democratic process of elections and allowing the winning party to move forward with their agenda.

    November 21, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  9. Jim

    Couldn't have said it better:

    -

    It is about time. LBJ faced ONE filibuster in 6 years. Obama has faced more than 350 in 5 years. And that doesn't even count the threats to filibuster, which have become just as effective at blocking debate on a bill. This government has to start working. Congress has to start passing laws, then working together to make necessary improvements to those laws. The Republicans and Tea Partyers in Congress have spent the last 5 years trying to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections by obstructing EVERYTHING this president has supported or proposed. In the process, the approval rating of Congress has dropped below 10%, which is the lowest rating of any governing body since these ratings were first created. The time to use the "nuclear option" is long overdue. Go ahead, Harry. Push the button.

    -

    Am I the only one...that can't believe making the confirmation process a little easier requiring 51 votes rather than 60 is called a NUCLEAR OPTION!? How did we get to this point...CNN? When did we lose our sense of logic and reason to this level.. Please copy and paste this into your replies if you agree.

    November 21, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  10. kaneda

    Obamacare was for the good of this country!? Please goes back to hole and stay there!?

    November 21, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  11. Anonymous

    For all the people saying the republicans are over using the filibuster let me try to put this as clearly as possible. The presidents nominees have been a miserable bunch of failures and why would you want more incompetent people appointed by this president? That is the purpose of the filibuster! What more proof do you need, everyone hired to do a job by this president is a disgrace!

    November 21, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  12. Lemmiwinks

    There is no "beauty" in a system that allows a minority in a legislative body to gridlock and derail anything and everything they don't like.

    November 21, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  13. RomneyWho

    Do the thing already . . . Use the tools available to get to where we need to be, "by any means necessary. Period. :(

    November 21, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  14. Roger

    For those of you claiming the Democrats have a "majority"... true, but not in the house. If you don't like it, beat them in the next election and get back complete control of the government. If you can't beat them, you're going to have to deal with them because they are doing what their constituents voted them in to do. When will the democrats stop blaming the other side, and get something done that is constructive, and not destructive?

    The house belongs to the Republicans, get over it already... Checks and Balances... We saw what happened when Democrats were in control for 2 years, and the country responded by voting.

    Why did the democrats shut the country down, instead of delaying the mandate? Because it would look like the Republicans were not at fault, and they had too much pride to do so. Turns out, Republicans were right... But somehow it's still them who is blamed for the government shut down.... hahahahaha, love it.

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  15. Kevin F

    Look, the filibuster is a really bad rule. It was not intended to be a rule by the founders, and it has turned Congress into gridlock. It is the reason we are unhappy with Congress. This may seem like self interest on the Democrat's side, but if they ever get into a minority situation they will have to deal with the same thing. This is better for the country, and I would vote for anyone who put it on their top priority to end– Democrat or Republican.

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  16. rdg18

    I will vote straight Republican in November 2014.

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  17. manfromv

    It is sad to watch the Democratic Party collapse led by President Obama, Reid and Perlosi.

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. phalukinapes

    It seems as the Obama administration has literally exhaused all of their tactics to put off what should inevitably be the impeachment of an inept individual as a president in these EXHAUSTIVE times that we are now experiencing as a country! This game has been played for too long now...five years and this president has laid nothing but a GOOSE EGG on the job! The offing of bin Laden really does not add up to that much in the big picture of things as a LEGACY!

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  19. Not gonna happen

    I used to vote exclusively Republican. I am a wealthy engineer who lives comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the US. As the Republican party has wandered from conservatism to whining, to obstruction, to throwing tantrums and coddling the Tea Party, I have left it. I want a party that actually will get things done for the good of the country. Obstructing all legislation, while producing no meaningful legislation of it's own has turned the Republican party into a shadow of its former self. For all you on this site whining about Democrats and predicting a Republican take over of the Senate, do you really think everything is going to go your way if that happens? Most of you are blue collar workers with marginal educations, who depend on government handouts. At the same time, you're calling the current administration "Communist, Socialist, Facist" when it's clear you have NO idea with that impressive 8'th grade education what those political systems really are. Name calling and whining just makes you look like the village i.d.i.o.t. I bet most of you didn't even vote. You just sit on that broken down couch in that leaky mobile home and whine and name call. America doesn't need you. Do you realize that? Whiners have never done any good for this country and they won't now. Get off your butts, turn off FOX, understand the actual political issues, and DO something about it!!!

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  20. Sniffit

    "I don;t want to hear the libbies kvetch when the shoe is on the other foot"

    First, it needs to be understood that the only filibuster change the Dems are pursuing is with respect to the nomination process. They're not just trying to get rid of it entirely.

    Second, in light of that fact, if anything coming out of the GOP/Teatrolls' mouths about this is even remotely honest, then their first act, if ever in the majority again, would be to put the filibuster back, not get rid of even more of it. We all know what they will do though: get rid of any remaining filibuster completely. In fact, they pushed the Dems into this corner and dared them to do it precisely because they think this limited change of the filibuster rules will give them their excuse for getting rid of the filibuster altogether next time they are in control. They were going to do it anyway, but why not manufacture an excuse if you can, right?

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  21. elgin123

    Our president has lied to us about ACA. How can we trust him on his view on Syria, Iran and yes,even his nominee. As a life long democrat and Illinois Resident I knew Obama had no substance sincxe the beginning now the mainstream is catching on

    November 21, 2013 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  22. Mark

    I remember the Republicans threatening this when the Democrats blocked Bush's appointees for many years. I remember being very frustrated about that. SO..... OK..... Sen. Reid, PLEASE do this!!!!! I'm begging you...PLEASE.....exercise this option because once it is done, thats it, theres no going back. You can thank yourself in 2015 when you have been rendered pathetic and useless because you have no tools to stop the Republicans in the Senate. I highly doubt they will do the right things either....but you Sir, will have no one to blam but yourself!

    November 21, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  23. alf514

    Hysterical whining from conservatives whose party changes rules in the middle of an election they're losing.

    November 21, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  24. crabman1

    its about time to nuke the whole bunch

    November 21, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  25. billisnice

    Is this not the man who shoved Obamacare down the middle class throats?

    November 21, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
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