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. Edwin

    This is not going to make things MORE partisan. It removes the ability of one party to block an appointee in order to help with a campaign, as Graham did recently. And it does not remove the filibuster in general. Talk about a misleading article!

    This move is long overdue. When the minority party repeatedly blocks every appointee for years, then PROMISES to stop doing so, then starts up again a few months later, only one of two possible options exist:
    Either we accept that no major job will be filled, or
    We do away with the ability to block appointments.

    To me, the first option is unacceptable.

    November 21, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  2. Nat

    Good old Harry Reid. If you don't agree with him, that's okay.....but you'd better just shut up and move out of his way! He is such a dismal failure as a leader!

    November 21, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  3. John

    Beware "American" you will now be hunted by the Obama administration. You may get a sudden audit by HIS IRS or you will be listed as a terrorist organization. If Harry was a true American and loved this country he would do it himself.

    November 21, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  4. JohnRJohnson

    Republicans have been asking for this for the last 5 years.

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  5. Frank

    Why is it the Republicans agenda to block everything or try to block anything Obama wants? For example, obamacare isn't even in effect yet. They even block nominees now too? My God.

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  6. Bill

    Reid knows Democrats are going to lose the Senate in 2014 and he wants to push through as many judicial nominations as possible before that happens.

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  7. Catherine

    My how the worm turns – Reid and minions called Bush and Republicans every name in the book when they wanted to do the same thing................ HYPOCRITE the difference will be that Obama and Reid and Pelosi will NOT do anything bi-partisan like they did during 2005!!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  8. zooberhood

    Reid waited way too long to do this. The system worked well until twenty years ago when the Republicans decided to start breaking down and tearing our government to pieces, bit by bit. They are handing our treasury, our future and our lives, to their big donors, lock, stock, and barrel. They tell their voters not to learn the issues, just listen to my soundbites and repeat them, as I destroy the government that educated you, developed the internet, and built a first world country.

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. Chris

    Be carefull what you wish for Harry, you are going to have to live with the consequences of this move for a VERY long time. You may not like what the GOP is doing today with the filibuster but you relied on the EXACT same mechanic you are destroying today in the past and you are condeming any future Congress to live with it to

    November 21, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  10. KrjMc

    Let me guess they only want conservative judges or else!!!

    Get rid of the GOP until they are grown up enough to govern.

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  11. Mark

    Why not just have a parliamentary system and go to a complete one-party/shadow government system? This is a threat, though. He won't do it – and he knows it.

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  12. ShawnDH

    About time! Go HARRY! We're taking our democracy back and the Republican terrorists are in a panic. Love it!

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  13. shorething

    These politicians still seem to think they know what is best for us the people, but for some reason decided listening to what the people are saying is no longer important. The only thing that matters now is the personal beliefs of the politicians. They do not have the best interests in mind for the American people.

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  14. ks

    Bad headline! As Ried is against the Nuclear Waste dump. Why would he be for anything Nuclear?????

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  15. Bill

    "It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete." I'm a physician and can relate to the obsolete comment thanks to technology, greed, Obamacare and multiple other factors. Welcome to the club Mr. Reid. The political leadership in our government is fantastic.

    November 21, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  16. SolidGop

    PLEASE DO IT!!!!

    You know that the Republicans will soon OWN the Senate, and they would JUST LOVE to have this option. Please do it!!! It's the GREATEST GIFT you can give our party.

    November 21, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  17. Lifeisadimension

    "The confrontation was averted thanks to an agreement..."

    Thanks? Another chance to help restore Democracy's "majority rule" and help lessen seemingly endless 2-party, party-first, skirmishes that have been pushing the U.S. onto the precipice's ledge was squandered.

    First do what is right for the nation. THEN tend to your party's special interest group's, corporation's, etc. agenda. To do otherwise is treason, at the very least an abandonment of fiduciary responsibility.

    (c) 2013

    November 21, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  18. Alex

    I believe they should just return to real filibusters and get rid of these silly rules that allow notional filibusters. Frivolous filibusters will decrease, but senators will still be able to delay and be heard when an important issue is up for debate. The senators wouldn't like this, but it seems to solve most of the problems here. The majority can't steam roll the minority, but the minority has to put some skin in the game to stand up for what they believe in.

    November 21, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  19. wow

    Why not just take away the tax exempt status of Republican entities.

    November 21, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  20. Bryan

    The US Senate came into existence in with the framing of the Constitution. The abhorrent practice of filibustering came into existence about 100 years LATER. So getting rid of what has become a WASTE of taxpayer time and money is not messing with the traditions of the Senate, just reverting it back to what it was supposed to be in the first place!!!! It amazes me that the politicians we elect think we are so stupid that they can say anything and it can't be checked, within seconds if you own a computer! And it seems republicans are more likely to talk down the the people that pay their salary than any other party. GET RID OF THE HATEFUL LOSERS NOW!!!! We need another party option, the republicans just can not grow up and act like adults, all they can do is block and filibuster, without any REAL solutions!

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  21. Sniffit

    "when Republicans hold the house and senate again after 2014 elections, Democrats will be kicking themselves in the butt...."

    Stop pretending the GOP/Teatrolls didn't plan to just nuke the entire filibuster rules the next time they get a majority in the Senate. There's absolutely no way they would've allowed them to continue to exist and then have "what goes around comes around" be visited on them by the Dems abusing the filibuster the way they have. They've proven over the past 5 years that they are willing to do anything to exert control over the gov't that they did not win via the election results and anyone who thinks that the only reason the GOP/Teatrolls would nuke the filibuster completely next time they're in control is just because the Dems are doing this is not paying any attention whatsoever.

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  22. ray

    you should have done this long, long , long ago reid. these racists, obama haters, hypocrites ,immigrant haters on the right will never do what they were elected to do. BRAVO REID.

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  23. llmoss

    Dirty Harry chisels the headstone of the Democrat Party.

    Love it Harry. Democrats are so popular right now you can just do anything you want. So, go ahead, I approve.

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  24. DaveinIL

    If this goes through, it will be another example of a lack of leadership and a resort to bullying to pass an agenda like Obamacare that is not in the best interest of the country. The nominations are an attempt to pack the Appeals court like FDR tried to do to pack the Supreme Court with more liberals.

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  25. JacksonAction

    Bring it on Reid.

    November 21, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
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