November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
12 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. Rob

    Once again the "party of the middle class" defenders of freedom do what they railed against when they were the minority. Apparently, its OK to silence the voice of the opposition if Harry says so. What a joke the Democrat party has become in my lifetime. This is why I am now a republican. See the light America!

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  2. joseomarluna

    the democrats made a mistake they will b in the minority again some day (probably not anytime soon) still they shouldn't have changed the rules .. 1 word .. KARMA .. what goes around comes around

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  3. Barbara Volstromer

    In a Democratic (majority) run Senate they are basically saying to the Republicans that your vote (and that of who you represent) doesn't count. We (democrats) are going to confirm and put whomever we want in these positions! We have all the votes we need on our side of the isle. I hope this comes back and hits them right up their party isle.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  4. jinx9to88

    The president should be able to pick who he wants to serve as justices. The GOP needs to win national election then they can have a say. Policy decision should be 60 votes but justices, not supreme court, should be chosen by the president. The Supreme Court is 5 -4 conservative so you GOP no nothings should really get a clue.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  5. Bozo

    Funded by the libertarian Koch brothers, who believe in zero government, if they can't get the legislation they want, then having a dysfunctional congress that can't pass any legislation/appointments accomplishes the same goal. The republican band leaders and lobbyists have everyone in lockstep to do nothing, thus satisfying the koch agenda. Now we have a fix for one part of the problem.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  6. drdata921

    When will the Republicans get it through their collective thick skulls that they lost the election. Whoever is in control of the majority should have the write to govern -versus have to listen to morons like Ted Cruz pontificate about green eggs and ham for 21 hours. Give me a break!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  7. tonyb

    Way to go Harry and the Senate democrats. Enough of this republican obstructionism. Hang tough guys and stay united!

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  8. Bill Jones

    Those pesky founding fathers didn't know who they were going to mess with when it came to 21st century democrats...no rules or policies are too sacred to bypass.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  9. George

    King Obama and prince reid will do anything to bypass democracy, this is just another example.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. Jerry

    Reid: Americans fed up...

    WOW! Harry, you are 10,000% correct! Finally Dirty Harry says something that is the TRUTH!!! YES Harry, Américans are fed up about the Incompetent-in-Chief, Bobble Head Pelosi, Whats-Her-Man Schultz, and all the other "Obama Butt Kissing" fellow Democrats that no longer know what the REAL truth is.

    I believe it's time for my fellow Democrats to wake up from their "slumber" and start thinking for themselves and more specifically; WHAT IS GOOD FOR AMERICA!

    Democrats don't allow yourselves to be intimidated by Mr. Obama. HE may think HE is América's King or América's dictator, BUT he's neither. Only HIS groomers/backers that created this insane experiment are the only ones that believe that.

    For América's sake, Democrats, PLEASE start thinking about the future of our beloved country.

    Democrats/Republicans lets take América back!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. Denverdriver

    It's about time we returned to majority rule. The Republican obstructionists have gone way to far and need to be reined in.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  12. Ike

    Bad thing for any party to have that much power. Does Reid think we'll hold the Senate forever? It will come back to haunt us all.

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  13. Michael

    It's about time!!! Since 2008 the Republicans have used the filibuster more than the combined history of the Republic!! Elections do have an impact!! They lost!!! Let's move on!!

    November 21, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  14. Nancy

    What an Idiot!!! Go back to Nevada!! He's just as bad as his boss! This really isn't going to help anything! Just more bull!!

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  15. Alan

    It's about time!

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  16. j0eschm0e

    Just more dirty tactics by the demcratic left.

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  17. OrmondGeorge

    I CANNOT WAIT for the 2014 midterms! Republicans think this will have bought them something.

    I think it will have bought DEMOCRATS a vote of confidence from the voting populace. ALL of America is REALLY tired of the Obstructionism and partisanship. If Republicans further heighten their threats of reprisal, particularly in a vitriolic manner, Democrats get more voters.

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  18. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    JohnRJohnson wrote
    The Republicans and Tea Partyers in Congress have spent the last 5 years trying to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections by obstructing EVERYTHING this president has supported or proposed
    -------------------------------------------------
    350 fillibusters Obama has had to contend with.
    That's just mind-blowing.
    The GOPeeing Teatards have also made history right along with our duly elected President. They have effectively brought governing to a grinding halt.
    Imagine all the good that could've been accomplished had they only worked even a little with the President.
    I am living it and seeing it but cannot quite completely believe it is truly happenning; an entire Party assisted by it's parasitc counterpart- and that would be the GOP being the parasite- has in effect completely rejected the results of TWO elections.
    They have indeed succeeded in making him a one-term President unless we pull together and deliver UNTO OURSELVES, our country, and our President a Democratic majority in the House.
    Failure to do so in 2014 would effectively maker the end of this man's presidency as they are unrelenting, unmitigated, and evidently unstoppable – except by us at the polls.
    So as you say push: the the button Harry, let's all greet each other in the political afterlife, let the chips fall where they may because this is certainly no way to live.

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  19. TexDoc

    He who lives by the nuclear bomb, dies by the nuclear bomb. I think this overall is a good thing, but Democrats can't scream when the Republican's do the same thing when they hold the White House.

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  20. Jason Enzweiler

    This will be a regretful day. This will spawn a time in which each party in power will spend time undoing what the one before did and making new laws at will. it will result in more chaos, more change, and more consequence for every election. There will come a time when Democrats will rue the day they unleashed this.

    November 21, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  21. Charels Murry

    Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Nancy Pelosi all deserve to be shot at sunrise. Line them up ear-to-ear and just use one bullet from a single shot muzzle loader. Have Bozo watch from a safe distance, wouldn't want any of the donkey dung from their brain pans getting on the POTUS, would we?

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  22. noonoo

    "The move came about after Republicans blocked three judicial nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, known as the highest court in the land after the Supreme Court." What's the basis for this statement? It is not as though the other Circuit courts are going to bow down to DC Circuit precedents?

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  23. RomneyWho

    Eat em up Democrats with extreme prejudice, leave no leftovers and take no prisoners . . . Do what you got to do, to get where you need to be. All is fair in the political arena. :(

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  24. sly

    All Republicans want to do is shut down America, and seceed from the Union.

    Thank God for Democrats who are trying to improve our nation.
    President Obama has cut the deficit to the lowest level since 2008, a 40% drop from last year.
    The Affordable Health Care law has lowered the average cost to the lowest level in 50 years.

    Thank you, Mr. President!

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  25. Daily Llama

    Senate Democrats: WE DON'T WANT DISCUSSION! WE DON'T WANT OPPOSITION! WE WANT TOTAL KONTROL!!!!!

    Adolf Hitler would be *SO* proud of his influences!!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
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