November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
5 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 (2,692 Responses)
  1. Tim

    Finally, we can move on from all of these tax dollar wasting filibusters that make our country look like the laughing stock of the planet. Republican's do a good enough job embarrassing our political process without having to read us Green Eggs and Ham in the middle of the night.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. foreverflag

    Reid is one of dirtest, corrupt pols. Shame on Nevada for electing a thing like him. He won't bring bills to the floor for them to vote, but he can do this. This country is going to hell. Most of the Senators belong in rehabs or jail

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  3. longtooth

    We all know eventually it will benefit the opposition. Their point is, congress has become so dysfunctional there is no other way to do business. Congress now enjoys the same popularity as death and head lice. It's time to change.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  4. Dave

    Lewis, better check out the Demographics. Republicans will not even have a majority in the House after 2014.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  5. rosaadriana

    It is too bad that it has come to this. If the Republicans would actually try to do something instead of block everything this would not have happened. I serioulsy doubt they will take the senate next year.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  6. Bob

    I don't like either side BUT it is funny to watch the GOP yell how Dem's changed the Senate rules and it is a sad day and it is Obamacare II (they are like a dog with a bone here ) now with all these bad mouthing the GOP never mentioned that they (Boehner) did much the same thing and even worst by changing the House rules to prevent there own party from voting. Yep too bad 98 percent of commenters take sides instead of realizing that it is time to vote for a third party that cares about Americans and not themselves and their friends.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  7. TripleA60

    If you can't get what you want following the rules, then break the rules.

    November 21, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  8. Sven

    House Republicans change the rules and it flies under the radar.
    Senate Democrats change the rules? 100-point font! Controversy!

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  9. LibsRLiars

    Since 2001, Senate Dems forced more than 30 cloture votes on judicial nominees. In 2005, Senator Obama sent an email to Hoven stating that he fully supported the filibuster in response to the Bush judicial nominees. You libs are just down right disgusting. Payback will be coming!

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  10. wobbles

    A decision the democrats will immediately regret come 2014.....

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

    Next thing the Libs will want control of your healthcare.... wait TOO LATE!!!! These guys are tyrannical.

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  12. Jean

    It is sad that because of Obama's choice to constantly nominate left-wing ideologues to these posts, as opposed to try to compromise and find fair minded nominees, Congress deems it necessary to invoke the most destructive step available. If Obama nominated level-headed, non-ideologues perhaps nominations could get through. There is to much extremism on both the left and right today and it leads to this. Harry Reid is a very dangerous ideologue as is Obama and they better be prepared for the ramifications that wil come from this dangerous precedent – they just doomed this country to brutal bi-partisanship for at least the next generation. Every democrat and left wing nut better brace themselves for the fact that this willindeed be used by the GOP when they next come to power and there is not thing one democrats will be able to do about it. Say goodbye to democracy as we know it thanks to Obama and Reid.

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. norm

    when are we going to get rid of this moron

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  14. Arun

    Lewis, it won't bite the dems in 2014 unless the repubes keep preventing people from voting with all their idiotic voter laws in the red states. Please explain to me what exactly the repubes offer the normal person today?? Answer: NOTHING!!

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. haddock

    About time! 50 percent of all the executive appointment filibusters in the history of our nation have occurred during Obama's Presidency. Enough with the GOP terrorist minority who just want to undermine the operations of government.

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  16. FordGT90Concept

    Why, oh, why did Nevada reelect Reid? Anyone but Reid, please!

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  17. Sorkh Razil

    Let's see how the Democrats like it after next year's mid term elections when the balance of power shifts.

    November 21, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  18. nick

    what a sham our government is at this time in history!

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  19. ART

    Well Its about time enough of their obstruction and do nothing manoeuvres

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  20. unknown11

    You realize that as soon as they lose the majority, democraps will vote to reinstate the old rules before the new members are seated, right? They have no scruples at all. This is a perfect example of how they think that there should be one set of rules for them and another for everyone else. Absolutely disgusting. I would not trust them in a card game let alone the senate.

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

    I guess this will teach the republicans that holding our country hostage, just because they don't want a black President, is unacceptable.

    Republicans swore to do NOTHING but keep President Obama from succeeding. They have done just that. They have cost American taxpayers BILLIONS of dollars and jobs, just to harass Obama.

    Enough is enough. Republicans, be told!

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  22. Tom

    Good for Harry Reid!. Enough of this Republican BS. Reid tried multiple times to reach a compromise with Republicans but they just can't stop themselves from obstructing everything. The government needs to move forward.

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  23. Does it matter

    The House and Senate are separated as a balance of power. The Republicans got the blame for the shutdown, but understand: THE REPUBS DID THEIR JOBS, THE SENATE AND PRESIDENT REFUSED TO SIGN THE BILL. Why? It wasn't what they WANTED.
    Now Reid does the same thing in the senate. He didn't like the outcome of a democratic vote, so he invokes this option so that he doesn't even have to deal with opposition. Hell, he doesn't even have to compromise now.

    And this is how democracy dies. With thunderous applause.

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  24. KBarr

    just another example of Divide/disrupt/deny/delay/distract/destroy.. Obamacrat politics in motion. run roughshod over rules to get what they want. It is more than a sad day in history of senate – this whole administration reeks with the intent to crush the USA.

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    An Act of Sheer Desperation and Lunacy.....

    November 21, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
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