November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
10 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. Fr33d0mhawk

    McConnel rightfully pointed out that Democrats were against removing the filibuster for judicial appointees, but it was Republicans who last threatened the nuclear option on a 50-50 Senate with McConnel's full backing. Democrats gave up the filibuster rather than succumb to the nuclear option, so will Republicans? Republicans pointed out that the POTUS has a Constitutional duty to appoint judges, but apparently now Republicans disagree and filibuster every appointee. So, McConnel's complaint falls flat using McConnel's own excuses for threatening the nuclear option before. I don't see why Democrats can't do the exact same thing Republicans did, unless Republicans are special, entitled, exclusively to a different set of rules and are beyond accountability for their actions. . Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, FOX News pundits all said Cheney should make good on his threat to invoke the nuclear option so the POTUS could fulfill his Constitutionally mandated job of appointing judges, but now those same pundits are whining, LOUDLY that Democrats are so evil for doing the exact same thing.

    November 21, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  2. Common Sense

    I love how the liberals are on here touting this is a good thing! Clueless and naive people!!! This is 1 step towards silencing a portion of the population! What are you going to do, when a Republican majority uses this against your beloved Liberal social agenda? This is just another step toward fascism, and the citizens of the Democratic party are two blinded by the full faith of the government to realize it. SORRY IT IS A JOKE AND IF PASSED EVERYONE WHO VOTED YES SHOULD BE IMPEACHED! There is NO WAY any voice in this country should be silenced. There are many things that get/got rammed through that are unpopular (OBAMACARE comes to mind, oh wait the Libs are now calling it Affordable Care Act so the messiah will be distanced from it), Dems and Repubs alike have always been able to debate and filibuster, this will make it very easy to exclude people!

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  3. Judgment is coming

    Take out Harry Reid, by whatever means required. Get rid of all the Progressives (Dems and RINOS). Break down the houses of ALL news media who support and lie for them and attack our Constitution.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Any adjustment to our checks and balances must address the simple truth that we are either moving in the direction of freedom or dictatorship. What do you want? Less talking and negotiation will produce more singleness of a few people's opinions being applied to many peoples lives. More talking and negotiations (less midnight voted in laws and inside manipulation) will result in more freedom for the people. I choose Freedom over dictators and Fascism.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  5. tet1953

    Necessary and overdue. It is ridiculous how often filibuster is used these days. Not that long ago it was used perhaps once a decade.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. JD

    Although I am a Democrat and am incredibly frustrated by the obstructionism of Senate Republicans, I strongly disagree with Senator Reid's decision. The so-called "nuclear option" will make the Senate more partisan, not less. We certainly don't need that!

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Judgment is coming

    Take out Harry Reid, by whatever means required. Get rid of all the Progressives (Dems and RINOS). Break down the houses of ALL news media who support and lie for them and attack our C o n s t i t u t i o n.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair

    The left will love you for this, Harry. Knock yourself out. You're setting a very dangerous precedent. By all means, proceed. Watch out for those pesky "unintended consequences" though, Sparky.
    -------------
    Most of the inexperienced will certainly love the idea. If any change should be made, then it should be to eliminate the bogus procedure known as a silent filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    They know control of the senate is in jeopardy...gonna ram thru as many as they can till next Nov.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  10. Jim

    The administration is being caught in lies everyday, millions of Americans are being screwed because Obama flat out lied about what would happen to their medical insurance, the ACA website does not even have a working system to collect payment of premiums yet, there is massive incompetence being displayed on a daily basis and THIS is the story that CNN decides to make a headline out of. Hint: if you are going to be biased about the coverage of Obama, at least try to hide it.

    November 21, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  11. jschmidt

    So are the Dems in the Senate going to vote on bills from the House? Of course not. Because according to the Dems only Republicans are obstructionists. The Democrats are out of control with power and in 2014 they will be stopped.

    November 21, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. Sean

    Why is it that when discussing how Republicans will use this on the campaign trail as an example of changing the rules mid-game CNN can't discuss the same tactics used by Republicans? Specifically the preemptive change in the House rule that restricted the power to reopen the government to the House speaker. I didn't see coverage of that story on CNN. @Dana Bash

    November 21, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. Don

    Thank you Harry, for another fine example of how the "play by my rules or go home" are played out in the Senate.. You alone are one of the most cited reasons for America to be in such turmoil.. Just look at the approval rating of the Senate..

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "You know that the Republicans will soon OWN the Senate, and they would JUST LOVE to have this option."

    All that is being changed is whether and how the minority can filibuster judicial nominees other than for SCOTUS (it's staying the same as it is now for the SCOTUS). Obama is going to be POTUS until 2016. There is no opportunity for the GOP/Teatrolls to use this particular rule change for "vengeance" unless and until they have both a POTUS in the WH and a majority in the Senate at the same time. I

    f the GOP/Teatrolls are being honest about anything they are saying about why this is a bad idea, they will change it BACK if they get a majority.

    If they are just avaricious political opportunists who were going to nuke the filibuster anyway next time they get a majority, then they will expand this filibuster change and get rid of the filbuster in other ways as well, maybe completely.

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  15. Fed up vetran

    Good Idea, if only it was literal. Then out of the ashes we can elect a new competent replacements. I do feel bad for Bo who is probable the only honest one in DC but to make an omelet.....

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  16. jschmidt

    WOnder when the Democrats will apologize for ramming through Obamacare as 1 party.

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  17. greg

    God forbid (oops, didn't mean to use God), you try to block anything his royal Preacher Obama and
    his little followers do, because you will either be Racist or a Republican. Total joke of an administration
    and really make the USA a TOTAL 3rd world Country. Good job !!

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  18. Ben

    Could CNN please stop calling this the 'nuclear option?' Comparing arcane senate rule changes to bombs that kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people is beyond stupid.

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  19. Kman66

    My God this is going to haunt the Democratic party. What a major mistake. Wow, I'm speechless.

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  20. CaliforniaAC

    Put the option back in the pocket and if the Repugs take control block all nominees like they do... fight fire with fire.

    November 21, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  21. mcjny

    It's time. Our government isn't working because the filibuster is being abused. Neither party should be able to work to hurt the presidency and the country. It's one thing to dissent. But to keep obama from having a fully functional cabinet and judiciary during his 2 term presidency is unacceptable. They lost the election, period. Give the other guy a real chance to help this nation.

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  22. Abbey

    Tick...tick...tick. Bye-bye Harry!

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  23. Patrick Portland

    Harry Reid...hmmm...if there ever a poster child for euthanasia...he's it. How stupid and short sighted...In the long run, the Dem's will rue the day they did this.

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. Miguel

    Go for it Harry. Throw the first punch. Midterms are coming up and Democrats will be running on obamacare

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  25. Joan

    CNN would you do a factual story about the real number of times the filibuster was used by the last Democrats against a Republican led Senate versus the number of times it has been used by the Republicans against the Democrats now? Apparently the number of times these Republicans have filibustered and obstructed is truly astonishing and historic. You can bet that the Democrats will have these statistics ready for the 2014 elections. They have many cases to run against the Republicans obstructionism including the filibusters, shutting down the government and the promises to do everything they can to destroy health care without trying to help fix it. The Congress and Republicans are at historic lows and they need to stop the obstructionism.

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
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