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. crabapples12

    So sad that literally every single issue is now a partisan issue full of chicken littles calling the death of the other party. Congress is a reflection of this country. We have exactly what we deserve.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  2. jbird68

    McConnell isnt moving the Senate conservatives in a direction to affect positive change in this country, so he should not even speak about this.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  3. c

    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.

    ------

    Yeah, that would explain why Republicans have filibustered even their own bills.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  4. Dingy Hairy

    Don't put anything past Dingy Hairy, Obama and the Democrats- nothing. They'll do anything to get what they want- they aren't constrained by any conscious of decency. How will it take the country to learn.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. JERRY O

    You call us republicans crazy and radical...
    you need only to look at your Senate Leaders to see crazy and radical...

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "LIB PRESS will be lapdogs on this as usual. "

    Yeah, the way they're all reporting all about it but ignored the GOP/Teatrolls changing the House rules to ensure that the gov't shut down and that nobody could stop...that's just soooooooooo "liberal" of them.

    IOKIYAR

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  7. NSL

    I'm a Dem. I don't think making this change will help the GOP win more seats in the House or Senate. I have been appalled by the Republican's blocking candidates merely because they're not their candidates. I have been appalled by the GOP blocking candidates by President Obama in particular, even more than other Dem presidents in the past, and believe the root cause is racism (Yes, I may be wrong, but listening to GOP claims about the candidates they are blocking makes me believe it of far too many GOP senators than I could possibly imagine before the President was elected.)

    Despite all that, I hope that Senator Reid puts the nuclear option back in his pocket because I think the change makes absolutely no sense for the country.

    What I implore Reid to do is make the GOP actually filibuster in order to filibuster. Make the GOP get on the floor of the Senate and talk, and talk, and talk. Make them follow the rules instead of merely threaten to do so. Make them do what Ted Cruz did when he showed himself to be the obstructionist he is, who cares little for America and less for Americans. If the GOP is forced to actually filibuster, I think far more will get done as it's easy to filibuster when you don't have to actually filibuster, and when you can hide from the American people when you're doing it, rather than be out in the open, in full view of the American people showing what kind of person and party you actually are.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  8. Okaynowhuh?

    Remember how Democrats cried what would happen if Republicans did this back when they had control of both chambers? Guess it is okay now huh? What a bunch of two-faced deceptive pieces of work Democrats are?!

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  9. Obvious

    Go ahead and do it. The Republicans are going to take the Senate back next year anyway. THEN, we will see how smart you are.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  10. kevin

    Out of over 200 nominees, the GOP has only blocked 2. That is 1%. This is a non-issue and an attempt by Reid to get the focus off of Obamacare and how it is sinking the Democrat ship. The best thing the GOP can do is say "Fine....all your nominations will pass with minimum questioning. We have a much larger problem to focus on and that is Obamacare". The GOP is so stupid in the way it falls for these things.

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

    Harry Reid is obviously the Chief Gadiantan.

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  12. Enough is Enough

    @pkMyt1 You do realize that Reid is a Democrat and that he is the one who plans to push the button, right? So tell me again how the GOP is doing this.....this is more of the left and the "we won" and "we won't negotiate" mentality.

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  13. American

    Harry Reid needs to be killed. He is a traitor and is destroying this country. We need to take our country back. We are under attack by oyr own government and I would proudly die trying to stop it.

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. Len

    What we're seeing as generations pass is politicians more knowledgeable, adept, and willing to game the system. The Constitution was written by men and is not infallible. It just took a while for politicians to disconnect with its original intent and learn how to play the technicalities. The silver lining is the Constitution is a living document. I

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  15. Tell the Truth

    This move by Harry "garden gnome" Reid only goes to show that the Democrats KN OW they are losing really badly and once again resort to changing the rules to hang on to their main aim [ wrecking America] to get their own way!

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  16. JERRY O

    Reid and Pelosi are your radicals... We need to get them out now!

    November 21, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  17. ora pike

    change has come to washington dc--the power of the socialist has risen up to take away rights of the citizens-the lies and deals being done by the obama/chicago powers is taking away the democracy that once existed, that I and others served our country to protect. we as a country got the change--and we will never again be the power and or have the freedoms we once had-GONE WITH THE WIND.

    November 21, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  18. YouSimon

    Funny, when Harry Reid was in the minority, he thought the Nuclear Option was a bad idea. My, how times change.

    November 21, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  19. BlueState

    Why are they calling it a "Nuclear Option"? It only effects executive and judicial appointments. If it effected legislation or Supreme Court appointments I might care more. I don't understand why the Rs wouldn't want that authority when they are the majority.

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

    Good, take the tea baby's toy away!

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

    Just like a democrat. When the law(or especially the Constitution) doesn't work the way they want it to, they try to make up their own rules and do whatever they please. I don't seem to recall them having a problem with this happening when they were the ones doing it to ever single Bush nominee.....

    November 21, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  22. geeman99

    The very foundation of our time-tested "democratic" government has been the concept of "checks and balances"...and now here come the so-called "democrats" wanting to change the very heart of what has made American government so successful!!

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

    The only things that a further "partisan divide" will do is further infuriate the Mainstream/Middle Class/Moderates and reduce the Republican footprint in Congress.

    What a pitty

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

    The rules are being abused by the GOP to thwart this President in putting judicial nominees forward. It is an abomination that should be stopped. There are dozens and dozens of judicial openings that have gone unfulfilled because the GOP members of the Senate keep finding way to hold up nominees. And it's becoming a problem not only at the DC Circuit court, but in federal courts throughout the nation.

    Not only is the GOP blocking nominees, they are dodging their role in recommending nominees to the President for consideration. Many Republican have simply ignored an opening in their state simply to stall the process.

    Maybe some common sense will prevail after the Nuclear Option goes through.

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

    NOT goin to matter what anybody does in Dysfunctional Backwards Washington, because I'm getting ready to take over, the idiots in Washington no longer count anymore, their just goin to be Ants at my Picnic soon, and that's a Fact !

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