November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
1 year 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. TomGI

    "It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete."

    Congress is already obsolete. But Camelot is slow to die and those people don't want to loose their rock star perks. They can do something or do nothing, it really doesn't matter any more to 78% of Americans.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  2. Joe

    I new a person whose behavior kept getting more juvenile and disrespectful the longer I knew him. Eventually he was alienated from his fiends and associates becasue they were SICK of his bad behavior I know how Harry feels.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  3. navaJohn

    Didn't Boehner do something similar during the shutdown?

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. JJ236

    Term limits anyone? This clown gets re elected for some unexplained reason. Was he once a community organizer?

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  5. humtake

    I am Republican. I think the current runaway Liberalism that has taken over America is slowly killing us from the inside. That's not to say Liberalism is bad...it is necessary to a point, which was reached a long time ago. However, I am for this. I am for anything that stops hindering the country and moves us forward. I think that we should have a coin toss over every major issue facing America...heads/tails. Abortion...coin toss...heads wins so we do it the way Democrats want. Immigration...tails...we do it the way Republicans want. ANYTHING to get this country moving past the same issues that have been "priority" for the last 4 decades I've been alive and probably longer than that. It gets so annoying to see all the kids come into politics and think everything is new and all of our political divides are new, so they then jump on the bandwagon and think that just one side is causing all of our problems. So, in turn, we NEVER move past the major issues because everyone keeps arguing. Abortion, gay rights, immigration, gun control, foreign affairs, and on and on and on are still being argued over with the same points and the kids who come into politics think they are something new.

    Let's find a way to move on. Compromise by letting each issue be handled by a separate party. Yes, something may be done that you don't like...but guess what, this is America, not "Billerica" or "Maryerica". Everyone is out for themselves and it ruins us.

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  6. dsmith

    Tea party tried to stop Obamacare

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. Tom Winans

    I can agree that childishness is an attribute of BOTH parties. However, we have had far too much sidestepping to mandate political will into law. Sacking the lot of our elected officials looks more and more attractive ...

    November 21, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  8. TheOpinionatedOne

    Way past time for term limits for members of the Senate and the House. Reason being, once a person reaches a certain age, he/she is no longer cognizant of the world around him/her. Harry Reid has reached that age. Time to move on Harry, you are no longer a viable member of the US Senate. Harry throws one of his temper tantrums every time something does not go his way. As I said, it is WAY PAST time for Harry Reid to retire.

    November 21, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  9. JLM

    It is time to get the Senate working again. It is nuts to have a rule that keeps the elected party from being able to do any business. It is time to get rid of the filibuster – period!

    November 21, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. DellStator

    The filibuster was a valid fail safe against tyrany of a bare majority
    Until
    The lazy pols in Washington changed the rules so they didn't have to actually fillibuster
    They only had to make known their desire to do so, then if the opposition didn't feel they had the super majority to over ride it, whatever it was is filibustered
    Without one senator having to spend one minute of their precious lives working, well, flapping their gums.
    Since that rule was enacted, fillibustering exploded, and that's the same time Washington became deadlocked in petty partisan bickering instead of working for the people of the US.
    It was a real win – win for the pols, they blame each other for the deadlock, for not doing their jobs, for not fixing the economy, taxes, healthcare, or anything, or doing any work at all, and they get more time to do the lobbiest circuit and line their pockets with bribes (to add pork barrel legislation both sides lard onto any must pass legislation, like keeping the gov't running, yep, even the austerity bills have pork attached)

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  11. Grichard

    Reid is a criminal and should be prosecuted for treasonous acts.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  12. Mark

    jkflipflop:

    Tell it to the founding fathers.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  13. CJK

    The test of Republican sincerity (perhaps and oxymoron) on this issue will come when they recapture the majority and they can restore the requirement for 60 votes to end debate. I have two bitcoins that say they are crying crocodile tears today and will resist any attempt to restore the 60 vote requirement.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  14. John Bird

    Dems should go ahead and end the ability of a minority party to prolong discussion simply to avoid an up or down vote they'll lose.

    And Dems should shut up and take their medicine when Republicans use it against them after regaining the Senate in 2014.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  15. Sam M

    Keep digging Harry. Between ObamaCare, Pelosi and you, Hillary is not quite,but almost buried. A few more shovels should do it. Great job! One of your constituents in Vegas.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  16. Gordon

    So if you cannot find a qualified appointee, change the rules to get the bad ones appointed.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  17. WiseGuy

    Great! Sen. Reid has completely lost his mind now!
    If you don't succeed under current rules, just change them ...

    "Feinstein and others, like fellow Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, now say things are so broken in Washington that the nuclear option may be the only way to fix it. "
    Oh, really??? Yes, things are broken, but changing the rules - basically to "you obstruct us, so we change the rules to where we rule and you can't obstruct us anymore!" - in this fashion is not fixing it (as in "repairing" it) but actually fixing the system (as in "changing the rules to favor me and hurt you").

    Shame on you, Sen. Reid, to wanting to change the venerable institution of the U.S. Senate (a.k.a. the Upper Chamber)! ... Very disappointed! ... and I am "only" a naturalized citizen (in contrast to a native-born one) ...

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  18. Jimmy Moore

    FILIBUSTER: A grownup throwing a tantrum like a child because he can't get his way.

    November 21, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  19. unknown11

    Typical short sightedness of liberals.

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  20. magick727

    Had me by the end of the 2nd paragraph. This would make a lot of people happy and also reflects the frustrations so many are having with the GOP.

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  21. realamerican

    Just maybe that snake harry Reid will be gone If the people of Nevada have any sense at all, Next run "we have to pas the bill b4 we read it IDIOT Pelosi all the way outta America. Then Boehner and mcconnell both need to go. Snakes they are all of them

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  22. anonya

    I'm offended that the media and politicians keep using the word "nuclear option" That word wouldn't have been thrown around 50 years ago and it shouldn't be used now in describing a politicians "last stand" It associates too much with weapons that can be used to destroy millions of people and you wonder why the rest of the world looks at America with disdain.

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  23. erin

    All mini changes, even for the better are worth nothing. We have to stop corporate dictatorship for good!!!!

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  24. dsmith

    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.

    You are joking right? I paid 456K in taxes last year, that would be enough to even buy you an education!

    November 21, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  25. pkMyt1

    So the Grand Obstructionist Party is finally succeeding in destroying our government. They should all be patting themselves on the back and high-fiving.

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