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. Kraas

    Bad idea. If/When the pendulum swings back the other way Dems will want the nuclear option gone.

    November 21, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Common Sense

    Wow the dems and their voting are naive at best! I love how when someone argues against a Dem proposal they are obstructionists, when they disagree with Obama they are Racist, and so on. What are you going to say when a Republican President nominates someone, Dems dont like it, but cant filibuster the nomination because of this? I bet we here fascists, communists, draconian, and so on! Just remember you reap what you sow! Do you people even realize why this was done? It was because they wanted to ADD MORE judges to the appellate court! Just what we need more cushy jobs given out by cronies using our tax dollars! Man I wish CNN wouldnt filter stuff, there are a lot more harsher terms I would use

    November 21, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  3. Greg

    Sen. Harry Reid (D – NV) 5/18/05

    “Mr. President, the right to extend the debate is never more important, when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases, a filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.

    November 21, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  4. Tom

    While I like having the filibuster available in the attempt to confirm extreme appointments, the GOP has abused the filibuster for years. There is nothing comparable in our history – period. The GOP has been filibustering qualified appointees based purely on politics. They even go so far as to hold up appointments for unrelated reasons, and openly state so. It is disgraceful.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  5. tony

    Thank goodness. I'm so sick of electing presidents, then having some hick senator from a minor state hijacking his job.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  6. dan carlan

    about time. Go Go, Go Demo.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  7. rufus

    Harry, drink a tall glass of prune juice. You'll feel better.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  8. Byteme

    Boom! You go Harry Reid! Enough of this GOP FOOLISHNESS!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  9. chuck

    Hottpoke- You're an absolute idiot! Not only will this come back to haunt the Democrats, it will happen sooner rather than later.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  10. Syd

    If filibusters were actually filibusters and everyone had to stand there are talk for days on end like Cruz (as much as despise him and his politics, he did the way everyone should), they wouldn't be abused by either side and this wouldn't have happened.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  11. Newmalthus

    The Democraps seem intent on provoking a civil war. Fortunately, under new rules, all these judges can and will be pulled down off the bench next year by the GOP.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  12. BottomLine

    It is no longer the Senate. It is the House of Reps 2.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  13. gopersarestupid

    Finally tell the gopers to go to hades where they belong. Then change the rules back just before the 2014 elections to insure we can filibuster everything they put forward. Nominate some honest scotus's, throw out liar thomas. Ultimately destroy the gop.

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. Jeff

    So if the 2014 election swings the Senate to a Republican majority, how long before Feinstein and Reed start complaining about the unfairness of the no-filibuster rule? You know, the one they just created? There is historical reason for the filibuster; it is meant to force the majority to the bargaining table when otherwise they could just walk roughshod over the minority. Case in point: ACA. How's that working out for you?

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  15. Dave

    This is great news! When the Republican take the Senate in 2014 the Democrats will be out without any way to stop Obamacare...PERFECT Timing!

    November 21, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. silence

    tyranny is alive and well..

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. donjoy

    All in all,it's just another brick in the wall.If they can't get what they want the right way then they change it so they'll win.Do they do that with football or basketball, I wonder? This country is going to hell cause of reid and his buddys.

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  18. Greg

    Sen. Harry Reid (D – NV) 5/18/05

    “Mr. President, the right to extend the debate is never more important, when one party controls Congress and the White House. In these cases, a filibuster serves as a check on power and preserves our limited government.

    “…but no we are not going to follow the Senate rules— no…because of the arrogance of power of this Republican administration.”

    REID: “As majority leader, I intend to run the Senate with respect for the rules and for the minority rights the rules protect. The Senate was not established to be efficient. Sometimes the rules get in the way of efficiency. The Senate was established to make sure that minorities are protected. Majorities can always protect themselves, but minorities cannot. That is what the Senate is all about.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  19. jgrueger

    Obamacare #2

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. Dave

    Harry Reid is a four eyed retard that deserves to have a gasoline enema.

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. freeman

    This is great. One more step for the dems. complete socialization of USA (United Socialist of America).
    If you work in this country and pay federal income tax, you are screwed.
    It is time to reduce fed. gov. power and give it back to the states.

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. Greg

    REID: “For more than 200 years, the rules of the Senate have protected the American people, and rightfully so. The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority and oftentimes the minority. I am sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of majority leader in a few weeks. But I recognize this requirement is a tool that serves the long-term interest of the Senate and the American people and our country.” (Sen. Reid, Congressional Record, S.11591, 12/8/06)

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  23. Mike

    Harry Reid has gonads after all. What a delightful surprise.

    November 21, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  24. Deez

    The filibuster is a tool for the minority (who need a voice!) From my understanding, this is weakening it!

    November 21, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  25. Paul

    About time! Maybe the Republicans will be less of a problem. Doubt it though.

    November 21, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
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