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. ShawnDH

    This is AWESOME! Republican obstructionists can eat it!

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  2. Gates

    They'll try to repeal this when GOP takes the senate in 2014

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  3. hey

    Should have done it along time ago.

    November 21, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  4. David Powell

    Sorry Mr. Smith, you can't Filibuster, the rules have been changed? Yikes. So much for the Senate as the saucer that cools the heat of the Congress. :P

    November 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. Tigerdawg

    The Republicans have been forced to use the filibuster because Obama continues to nominate extremists who put their ideology above the Constitution. Other presidents have nominated people that, while matching their philosophy, were honerable people that will follow the rule of law and could be confirmed by people on both sides.

    November 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. Mary L.

    Harry Reid advised the GOP to, "Go Ahead, Make My Day..."...LMAO...

    GO GET 'EM "DIRTY" HARRY...WE LOVE YOU !!!!

    November 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. David

    Good. Common sense. You can STILL filibuster...that's an important check & balance. But you should have to ACTUALLY stand and talk for 24 hours, actually filibuster, not just "press a button anonymously" to block something so EVERY SINGLE VOTE requires a super majority. Our founding fathers did NOT setup Congress to need a super majority to pass everything (only a few specific things explicitly mentioned like Constitutional changes).

    November 21, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. OCCUPY WALLSTREET FOREVER

    This should have been done a long time ago.

    We could have gotten a UNIVERAL HEALTHCARE SYSTEM instead of the middle ground known as obamacare.

    One person should not be able to hold up the will of the people, even if it's supposedly a bad idea. Instead, the one person should appeal to the American people to vote in people who would change the bad idea.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Steve_MA

    Too bad its not a revocation of the filibuster in its entirety. Enough with obstruction of everything. Change the rule on the whole ball of wax and end the obstruction so we can conduct the nation's business.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  10. Bruce in VA

    The minority is supposed to have more power in the Senate. Hey Harry, if you don't like it, win some more elections to get your 60.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. Miguel

    Demos were pretty confident about Obamacrae. I suspect Reid is pretty confident about taking the gloves off. Always easy to throw the first punch Harry, be sure you can take a punch too, because the midterms are coming up.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  12. WisconsinEric

    Long overdue. The house manages to function (sort of, at the moment) without a filibuster. So do the legislative chambers in the states. All the filibuster has done is bring things to a halt, not only in the Senate, but in courts and executive offices where we need cases heard, decisions made . . . The Republicans have only themselves to blame; by strategy, they have created a Catch-22, in which they do as much as possible to keep government from working, then criticize the Democrats for being unable to make government work. If you don't believe me, look at the simple statistics on the number of times the Republicans have invoked the filibuster in this Congress, vs. all previous Congresses. They have taken a procedural rule that occasionally served both parties in an extreme pinch, and abused it out of existence.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  13. Logictox

    The filibuster was put in place as a method to keep the minority from being run over. This will have long term ramifications and seriously undermines our legislative system.

    November 21, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  14. Graeme from Ottawa

    about time,nuke em harry

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  15. Booseyboo

    Pathetic! I like neither party but when Harry Reid's party was the minority he was strongly against what he is doing now. We have only ourselves to blame to allowing these so-called public servants to continue wronging this country.

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  16. Nameross

    Well about time. The Senate filibuster rule is an affront to democracy. Vote and move on to each issue.

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  17. Jim

    Harry Reid is one evil politician – this guy would be Adolf Hitler's right hand man if the opportunity presented itself.

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  18. CoryT

    The GOP isn't interested in anything but obstructing. Period. Let me know what good things they have done in, say, the last 15 years. I'll wait.

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  19. Elliot

    Up with america and down with the tea party!

    November 21, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  20. Omulaabe Atuliise

    Thank God that we can now go Nuclear on em! Nuke em all with their uneding filibusters! Thanks Reid for saving us from the Cruz political circus and drama.

    November 21, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  21. David815

    Remember, what happens when the Repubs wine the Senate?

    November 21, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  22. greybeard

    If you're going to do it then do it. If not, then stop threatening it. It looks worse to threaten it and not do anything then to do it and be wrong. At least your opponents will have to believe you when you say you're going to do something.

    November 21, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  23. Enough is Enough

    Ha! When Democrats do it they are heroes! When Republicans threaten it they are evil! Americans get what they deserve based on their votes – suckers!!

    November 21, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  24. ShawnDH

    Miguel whined: "Demos were pretty confident about Obamacrae. I suspect Reid is pretty confident about taking the gloves off. Always easy to throw the first punch Harry, be sure you can take a punch too, because the midterms are coming up."
    ___________________

    Yep millions more Americans will be insured, and only right-wing weirdos are obsessed with Obamacare. Everybody else wants to keep and improve the law. But you are right: Midterms are coming up. How'd that government shutdown work out for ya?

    November 21, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  25. Hippie

    Good timing for Harry Reid, given that the Democrats are doomed to lose the Senate next year thanks to ObamaDoesn'tCare, the Unaffordable Care Act. I guess this will let them get a few judges installed before the GOP takeover though.

    November 21, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
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