November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
12 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. Brian

    The Dems could have fixed the problem at any time without changing laws that will someday come back to HAUNT them. All they had to do was hold their fellow Dems accountable to tell the truth about what happened at Benghazi, Fast and Furious, IRS targeting, doctored jobs numbers, etc etc. The refusal of the Dems and their lapdog press to hold these CROOKS accountable is the root of the problem. This isn't a third-world banana republic; we are supposed to be accountable to each other. The Dems, and particularly the Prez Lite, have never learned this. He lacks the honor of Richard Nixon to take ownership of the illegal activities and LIES perpetrated by those who work for him.

    November 21, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  2. Sniffit

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

    Note to my fellow liberals: What Cruz did was NOT a filibuster. It was just a grandstanding floor speech. It had none of the procedural effect or power of a filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  3. Don DaMiddle

    A "simple majority" is all that should EVER have been required...
    (except to overturn a Presidential Veto)
    THAT was the original vision of our Constitution & Government Infrastructure.

    November 21, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  4. Anthony

    This has nothing to do with bills being passed by 51 vote majority. It is solely for presidential appointments not being to the Supreme Court. Take time to research something before you spew hatred.

    November 21, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  5. James

    This is high treason all who vote for this should be subject to the maximum penalty under law for this offence.

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  6. Kman66

    Reid, this will come back to haunt you.

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. Sniffit

    The real nuclear option was deciding on November 5, 2008 to nuke EVERYTHING with abusive filibusters.

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  8. AlbaMN

    They should also revert to a real filibuster. If someone wishes to obstruct a bill, they should be required to speak through the whole thing, not just send a note saying "Filibuster". That would cut down on some of this stupidity. Some. So much for the once proud "Party of Lincoln", today they seem to be nothing but obstructionists and sore losers.

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. RomneyWho

    Many men, many, many, many men, will fall, when the people come together in 2014! :(

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  10. dot8

    Republicans have been against everything Obama does/says since day one ... no wonder nothing gets done in this country!

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  11. sammy750

    The Senate and House has got to get the peoples work done. Whether Republicans take part or not. Republicans are continuing their blocking of votes and saying NAW to all votes,. Reid needs to blast out the Republicans in the Senate. Lets get some passing votes

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  12. rep

    It may come around to bite the Dems, but I say go for it anyway. The filibuster is being too abused in recent past not to make a change here. Another option is to do what other posters have suggested: make the folks do the filibuster the old fashioned way–talking for hours and hours on end. Heck, make everyone in the party attend, stay awake and listen, non-stop too. And then maybe we'll see what issues folks REALLY care about blocking. I bet the number of filibusters would drop to one or two a year.

    November 21, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  13. mediafail.2012

    I just saw some Liberal made up news and I thought I'd point out something. A filibuster and the THREAT of a filibuster are 2 different things. Someone posted that Obama faced 350 filibusters versus LBJ's 1. In today's world, the THREAT of a filibuster is all that is needed because most of the politicians are are too weak in body and conviction to actually do it.

    Also, I saw someone else say that Republicans want an oligarchy? Are you kidding me? The democrats have already established one! Democrats have all sorts of billionaire buddies and friends on Wall Street, more than Republicans I bet (friends behind closed doors). Drop the intellectually lazy stereotypes and take an honest look at things.

    November 21, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  14. RIchard Long

    What happened to Obama's promise to be the "Great Uniter" that would usher in an "era of unprecedented cooperation"?

    Lack of leadership, constant blame game, hyper-polarization of party lines has brought us to this.

    November 21, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  15. andrew

    Good..Great!!! It should be a simple majority. Thje Repblikl-ass have destroyed any semblance of governing with America in mind, just their own jobs and perks. Shut them down and lets move on!!!

    November 21, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  16. bob_lawbla

    The Hypocrisy from the left is astounding.

    November 21, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  17. RettasVegas

    I sure hope Reid can get this passed, it will benifit BOTH parties, and I'm fed up with the lame tactics of the GOP. they need to try to work with the Dems. and quit allowing the extreme's in their party to continue to hurt ALL Amrerican's as they did when they shut down the Govt.
    They have made it obvious they don't care how many millions of Amrican's they hurt while trying to discredit Obama, I', sick & tired of them all. Independent voter

    November 21, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. RocketJL

    Thanks to the guy who really brought us obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  19. Deac

    When the Dems loose next election because of obamacare, he will wish he hadn't done this. What comes around goes around

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  20. JIm

    The filibuster is important to stop one party from steamrolling the other, and trying to ensure at least some degree of bi-partisan-ness. The dems basically stopped the filibuster with the ACA by claiming it a budgetary bill, or some other non-sense, and are going to do it again.

    Dems should be careful with this approach. What goes around comes around, and they'll have no right to complain if the republicans remove their right to filibuster in the future.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  21. Maine liberal

    more green eggs and ham from the republicans

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  22. Delaware Confederate

    Ah the imperalists at work!

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  23. 866bway

    Two major lines of BS being played out here:

    First is the notion that the Rs are just doing what the Ds did. In truth, filibusters have skyrocketd with the GOP minority under Obama. Moreover, they are now blocking ALL nominees to a court, not specific nominees based their records. Sure, Ds blocked specific Bush nominees bc they objected to their politics/records, but that's not what the GOP is doing here.

    Second is the notion that the Ds are instituting one set of rules for themselves and one for everyone else. This is a new rule for the Senate that every party will have to live under going forward. Ds just get first crack at it because of the little fact that they, you know, won the last national election.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  24. Kman66

    The public is just waking up to the deceitfulness of the Democratic party. Stunts like this will only hasten their demise. Be careful of what you hope for, it could be deadly to your party.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Dixie Dog

    Good. Have at it dems! Obamacare assures the republicans to take over the senate in 2014. Watch out! As for the rino's that tried to play nice with the dems back when you had control of the senate? F-off in 2014. Only true conservatives need apply.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
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