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. Bob Penn

    They should block Obama's extreme left-wing appointees.
    Reid's nuclear option will help Republicans when they take over the Senate.

    November 21, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  2. Brett

    We are at a point in history where our government is no longer for the people, by the people. This is when most countries in history reach a tipping point of serious reallocation of power.

    This is a minor change, since it only relates to nominations, but it's a start in the right direction to get what most Americans now see as a failed institution.

    Washington's results and infighting over the past year makes me want to stop paying my income taxes, since I'm not receiving the services I'm paying for to my satisfaction.

    November 21, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  3. not-fishing

    The old "Stacking the Courts" play.

    No Compromise from those who shoved through (or up) Obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  4. John

    Funny, when the Dems in the Senate attempted to block some of Dubya's nominees this way, they were WRONG!!! It shouldn't be done, it's the president's job to do this, let the nominations come to a full vote and stop them there if you can.
    Now when the GOP does it, it's ok. They're protecting America!
    If it was wrong with when the Dems did it, it's wrong now when the GOP is doing it. The Dems apparently can recognize that the nuclear option may come back and bite them in the future when they don't control the Senate, but they're willing to deal with that. Take the option.
    Filibusters should be sent back to what they were, as long as you can stand and speak on the subject, it's filibustered and if you can do it long enough that other congress critters go home and you don't have a quorum, you've won, otherwise, too bad, vote on it.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  5. Linda R

    Instead of just threatening to invoke the nuclear option, JUST DO IT! I'm sick and tired of the Dems just threatening and NOT DOING!!!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  6. vasechek

    reid should abide by the nnpt, dismantle his nuke program and allow inspectors in to do their jobs.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  7. Barrie

    This is the second step in the Democrat plot to overthrow the government and suspend the constitution. The third step will be to outlaw the Republican party; the first step was forcing Obamacare on an unwilling public.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  8. KKelsey26

    Nuclear option? If that involves dropping a WMD on Congress, I say go for it.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  9. rb1948

    It's about time somebody grew a pair and kicked the obstructionists to the curb.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  10. Clyde

    How does this character keep getting into office year after year.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  11. donald

    I'm really tired of Dana Bash's false equivalencies. Democratic use of the filibuster in the past bears no relation to the extreme use of the practice by Republicans. You can't argue that they're the same. As someone else once said: if the Dems said the world was round and the Republicans said it was flat, CNN would report the "parties disagree". That's useless reporting. It does not serve the public interest.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  12. shawn l

    It's about time. They should have done this a long time ago.

    November 21, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  13. arnold stang

    Senators like Graham were abusing the system, blocking every nominee for issues unrelated to the nominee or for reasons which were not delegated to him under the constitution. Benghazi has nothing to do with district court judges, and Graham's opinion that we don't need more district judges is not his to make. The constitution is clear on roles. The president nominates, and the senate holds "fair and impartial" hearings and then votes. If Graham has an issue with a nominee thats a different issue. The republicans need to remember that their allegiance is to the USA and its constitution and that if the people they represent don't get it, then they need to be educated about this being an american.

    November 21, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  14. R. Glenn

    The last time he went "nuclear" was with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That's done a number on polarizing the country and produced bad legislation. Please Reid, why not be a little wiser and realize maybe that maybe if you can't get a supermajority on board, then maybe there's something wrong with the nominee, not the process.

    November 21, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  15. cosmok

    The people blindly chastising one party over the other really need to get their heads out of the sand.

    November 21, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  16. tony

    Anyone know of a single positive benefit the tea party has brought to the average American? Or even proposed?

    Reducing taxes only helps the rich. Anyone on a median income, still won't be able afford to save an buy house and send even one kid to college, even if taxes went away all together.

    November 21, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  17. cjb

    Well maybe if we had any confidence in the president's nominations. As it is it is crony capitalism and special favors to his buddies who have no experience or brains for that matter.

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  18. AJM

    @Dan: I dont think Republicans are the only one with money and positions of power out there. Your premise that only rich republicans have sway, is never a good way to pontificate on this subject

    D-Bill Gates 56 Billion
    D- Warren Buffett $50.0 billion
    D- Lawrence Ellison $39.5 billion
    D- Jim Walton 20.1 billion
    D- Alice Walton 20 billion
    D- S. Robson Walton 20 billion
    D- Larry Page – Google – 15 billion
    D- Sergey Brin – Google – 15 million
    D- George Soros – Crime Inc,.14.2 billion
    D- Mark Zuckerberg $13.5 billion
    D- Dustin Moskovitz $2.7 billion
    D- Sean Parker $1.6 billion
    D- Peter Thiel $1.6 billion
    D- Yuri Milner $1 billion
    D- Eduardo Saverin $1.6 billion
    D-John Corzine 300+ million net worth

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  19. Christian Grey

    Harry the GOP will control the house and senate after the midterm so what comes around will go around...LMAO...no LMFAO

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  20. Firstname Lastname

    Mr. Reid, you are fired. Clean out your desk and turn yourself into the nearest jail for treason.

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "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."

    I love how the conservative think they are acting tough by abusing the rules to nunllify election results, nullify laws and nullify the POTUS's constitutional powers of appointment. You guys are so transparent. For 5 years, GOPers/Teatrolls have proven that they don't want to work with Dems/liberals to reach compromise. It's their way or the highway...as we have seen from their repeated abuse of the filibuster and their shenanigans of holding gov't funding and the debt ceiling hostage, and even deliberately causing and prolonging a gov't shutdown. This is their chickens coming home to roost.

    FIFY.

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  22. dsmith

    Nuclear option will work great for the republicans next year when they vote on impeachment proceddings!

    November 21, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  23. Greg

    The whole filibuster thing needs to be "outlawed" as it doesn't do crap other than screw the American people over. Congress is broken and needs a reality check. the president by executive order if he has the power that is make it illegal to accept all the kickbacks Oil and big corporations give to people in congress and make them have a wage closer to the American people they represent and same health plans and then we would see shit change for the better of the people. Until then its all about capitalist greed.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  24. AlwaysRite

    For the good of America he should impeach Obama instead,and his failed Obama care. I can't believe it cost over 6million dollars for a website that don't work,just like his government.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  25. LWJR

    LIB PRESS will be lapdogs on this as usual. I recall the GW Bush complaining about the same issue back during his term. Seems that Obama appointing extreme lefties is the issue, not filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
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