November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
1 year 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. Tony

    YES!!!! A very smart move that will actually work for both sides.

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  2. Carl

    Senile Hairy and brain dead Pelosi are poster children for what is wrong in America today.

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  3. ray

    mitch is the biggest hypocrite, this racists lies truth his teeth

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  4. MightyMoo

    There shouldn't be a filibuster for either side. It's been abused way too much. Neither of them deserve it.

    November 21, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  5. 866bway

    They should have a phrase for this. Oh wait, they do and its "MAJORITY RULE."

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  6. OrmondGeorge

    Gates wrote:

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

    You got the date wrong, that would be 3013

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  7. Edgar

    We now no longer live in a republic.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  8. ProudACLU

    The treasonous plans of the tea party have been shot down with this move. While I regret Senator Reid had to do this, you have to admit that the GOP wanted this as well with the way they were not HONORING earlier deals about only filibustering extreme cases. H@ll, Linsay is holding everybody until he Bengazies himself to sleep.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. unknown11

    It once again seems that democrats cannot see past their own nose.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  10. Balanced99

    Democrat, Independent or Republican – you should be horrified with these actions. This administration has been lying to the American public since before it took office in during the first term in 2008- and will do anything they possibly can to push the most radical agenda in the history of our country.

    Obama, Pelosi and Reed make Nixon look ethical.

    Our debt, Fast and Furious, IRS Scandal, Benghazi, Sequestration, Obamacare – the list goes on and on. Lies and cover-ups with NO ONE ever held accountable.

    Obama lied and covered up long enough to win the last election – also did everything he could to create gender, class and race warfare.

    We'll being paying for these radicals for years and years to come.

    The only thing the democrats have done well is stick together as a party. Half of them no its wrong – they just all think keeping their job is more important than actually doing it.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  11. Washington Nearsider

    "Americans understand this as a partisan political grab."
    - Harry Reid, discussing the Nuclear Option in 2005.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  12. Johnny Triumph

    This'll get really good once the Dems aren't in control, this is going to backfire on them!

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  13. Matthew

    It doesn't matter what your political affiliation is (or even if you're one of the smart people who has no blind loyalty to either party). This is an astoundingly horrific day for the future of American politics.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  14. John

    George W. Bush suffered stiffer resistance and longer delays for his nominees than Obama. Bush’s nominees to the DC Circuit faced confirmations dragging on for 707 days on average, with one particular nomination (Brett ­Kavanaugh) dragging on past 1,000 days. By contrast, Patricia Millett was nominated on June 4 this year and obtained a vote by the Senate just 149 days later, on Oct. 31; Pillard, 161 days; Wilkins, 167 days; and Caitlin Halligan, 433 days. Earlier this year, the Senate confirmed Obama’s nomination of Sri Srinivasan for the DC Circuit after a 346-day wait.

    November 21, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  15. llmoss

    Early Christmas gifts are always so special. But, this year, Democrats just keep giving. Thanks Harry, we'll enjoy this one right through 2014.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  16. RW0r1d

    Something that has been avoided for over 200 years can no longer be supported? Very sad state of politics.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  17. capiers

    This all could have been prevented if the GOP simply did their jobs and not purposefully block everything Obama does. He put forth 3 different people and the GOP blocked them all for no reason other than "We will not support any person put forth by Obama"

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  18. nmmell08

    Also about all the people calling for "compromise"...when has any President have to compromise on his nominees? Bush never did (The Supreme Court failure was becasue she was so unqualified for the job and incompetent, lots of GOP did not want to nominate her). Why should Obama have to cater to the GOP's wants about nominees. He won the Presidency, he should be able to pick who fills the empty positions. Unless the canidate is unqualified for it (which from what I have read is they are qualified), they should let the process run its course.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    It's time to change alright... Lets add term limits to congress.....

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  20. Dan

    People are allowing this idiots to make a joke of our Government.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  21. Nicole

    This was not a good idea. At all. This should have never passed.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. momz

    about time we let the government get back to work instead of being held back by republican obstructionism.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  23. GOP Sucks

    This woudn't have happened if republicans hadn't abused the privilege of the filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  24. Dan Walker

    Dems know that they are toast in 2014....they need to install as many socialist puppets as possible before then to carry their water. PATHETIC!

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. regrettable

    If there were a way to get the tea party to compromise with the GOP, this wouldn't have had to be.

    November 21, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108