November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
9 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. zeb Minas

    Now the Republicans will be forced to (dare I say the word!) compromise so they can influence bills passed by the Senate. Maybe that's a good thing.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  2. LOL

    Can we kick out all those kids from Senate and vote adults instead. The way they disfunction make this country look bad

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  3. Jon

    The Nuclear option will not add to the partisan divide: It will decrease tensions, because the government will be able to function again. As long as the minority party always blocks everything, nothing gets done, government doesn't function, and then someone has to be blamed. This blaming is what increases partisan tensions.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  4. BO

    This will be a lot of fun when the dems lose the House next November.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  5. J

    If Republicans want to act like children then maybe they should be treated as such. Why should one party have outsized control over this country when they are an increasingly shrinking minority of its population. To always be against everything is not the way a national party should conduct itself. As a side note – why are most of the opinions expressed on this page conservative? Don't you have jobs?

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  6. Sniffit

    CNN pays all sorts of attention to this rules change BUT completely ignored that the GOP/Teatrolls used their control of the House to change the rules on the night the government shut down in order to make sure that the government shut down and that nobody could stop it by forcing a vote on the Senate's continuing resolution.

    IOKIYAR

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  7. Original5in

    The filibuster being used to block a vote is the nuclear option since it prevents congress from doing their job. Originally Filibusters could only be used to delay a vote since you had to remain standing and talking to continue to delay a vote. The delaying tactic was used primarily to ensure a vote wasn't held while someone was at lunch or stuck in traffic. The filibuster was changed to the nuclear option of preventing a bill or nomination that could pass from getting a vote in the last 50 years after the creation of the nuclear bomb thus creating the nuclear option. What is amazing is how often we use the nuclear option filibuster to prevent congress from doing their jobs of voting on bills.

    November 21, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  8. Brian

    Go right ahead. MAKE MY DAY. Hopefully in 2014 everything will change and this will make it MUCH easier for Republicans to undo everything these arrogant Dems have done. Thanks Harry!

    November 21, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  9. Sniffit

    " Take time to research something before you spew hatred"

    Indeed. And that means going to other sites, because CNN is NOT going to inform you in a manner that deflates a potential controversy.

    November 21, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  10. BO

    Harry should have quit many years ago.

    November 21, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  11. Sharyn B

    Do it Majority Leader Reid!!! It is long past time to stop this baloney of blocking every candidate or piece of legislation put forth by invoking these ridiculous "ham and green egg" tactics. A simple majority is what is called for. The Republicans have tried and tried and tried to obstruct just about anything and everything that comes up if it is something suggested by the Democrats or God forbid, President Obama. If the Republicans in both houses had spent as much effort in some positive vein, where people actually compromised and got things done, we would not be in this situation. Such abuses have rarely been seen in our recent history. IF this kind of present scenario of "burn everything down" if the Republicans (held hostage by the tea party extremists) don't get our way continues, our form of government is doomed. As for the comments about making "President Romney's agenda so much easier to enact" above.....you must be smoking something. Get over it. Romney was defeated and he and his type will be defeated again in 2016. The majority of this nation is centrist, not left, and not right wing tea party types. Cruz, Perry, Palin (a complete joke) and others like them don't have a chance except where they have skewed voting districts. Candidates who espouse philosophies from the far left or far right of center will not and should not prevail. Do it Mr. Reid. It is about time the icejam gets dismantled.

    November 21, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  12. jrm03063

    Too bad we can't send the GOP to "fillibuster rehab". Since they don't know when enough is enough – it's time to stop letting them play with matches.

    November 21, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  13. Tom1940

    Good 'ol Harry Reid. "Americans are fed up with gridlock"!! And I suppose that Harry believes that Americans do not know that "He" is also part of the problem. How many Republican House Bills are sitting in Harry's Desk (bottom drawer), that will never – never, see the light of day, much less be assigned to Senate Committees for hearings, testimony, nor open debate.
    C'mon Harry – give the folks a little credit for "political process" brains.

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. Jim

    Reid is about the worst political hack ever to hold this job. If he had allowed 'Cut ,Cap & Balance' to come up for a vote – it would have passed. Instead of having a still growing National debt and actual unemployment of 14%, we would be on the way to recovery.

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  15. Sam

    Reid should be fired. The last the America needs now is more partisanship and that all Reid is promoting with this change.

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  16. tom l

    I love how the liberals on here think they are acting tough by changing the rules to fit what they want. You guys are so tough. Once again, liberals prove that they don't want to work with repubs and compromise. It's their way or the highway...as we have been told repeatedly. What a pathetic move.

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  17. geno marcello

    Harry Reid needs to retire and move back to Search, NV. to help his family operate the brothels they built and that have been making the Reid family rich for the past 40 years.

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  18. DaveL

    It's about Freakin' time.......

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  19. Joe

    Might as well do it now...because you know darn well that as soon as the GOP gets 51 senators, they'll do it...

    November 21, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  20. Ron

    DO IT!

    Thanks to Reid and the Democrat pushing Obamacare, which has turned out to be a complete disaster, it is likely that the Republicans will take the Senate in 2014. With Obama's approval ratings in a free fall, and unlikely to rebound, ever, any Democrat presidential candidate will have the stink of Obama all over him.

    So, by the beginning of 2017, we will have a Republican majority in both houses and a Republican president. With Reed and the Democrats removing the filibuster, that just paves the way for the Republicans to be able to roll back the train wreck laws passed during the Obama Administration all that much faster.

    November 21, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  21. t2vodka

    I use to lean more to the republican side. I cannot remember a time when they were this destructive. It is like they don't even care, they just want to get their way.

    November 21, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. Paul Cooper

    Assume that thanks to the debacle that is ObamaCare, the Democrats lose their Senate Majority next November.

    The look on Harry Reid's face when he realizes he gave the Republicans the power to reject Obama's appointments with a simple 51 majority vote will be priceless.

    November 21, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. halxxx

    For all guys above that agree with Reid how much are getting paid for posting propaganda on cnn ? Are you part of Blue Groups getting paid by Obama ? What a disgrace reading your comments.

    November 21, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. nelbert

    @callmecrazy
    OK, I will.

    November 21, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  25. jkflipflop

    The fact that a single person can completely stop the inner workings of our entire country by simply being allowed to speak non-stop for as long as they please is horribly, horribly detrimental to all forms of logic.

    November 21, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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