November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
11 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. jdinblankets

    About freaking time

    November 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  2. Average Joe

    Go home Dirty Harry

    November 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  3. Rosslaw

    The Republicans have publically declared that they will not allow Obama to fill the 3 D.C. Circuit seats-period. Miss Lindsey says he/she will block all nominations without exception unless he reaches climax, eh, satisfaction over Libya. The teatards shut down the government and then act surprised that they shut down the government. We need to have a republicans-only manned surge in Afghanistan.

    November 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. ED1

    This is just another stupid thing the Democrats have done since they took back control in the Senate.

    This time I hope the people in America wakes up and see what they are doing just like Obamacare when they didn't even read the bill and passed it or did they and just don't care about the American tax payers.

    Hope this jumps up and bites them in the ass next year and 2016.

    November 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  5. MarcTheDuck

    Exact same way Harry Reid got ObamaMare passed – without House approval and without any Republican senator approval. The dems have brought us closer to a dictatorship than we've ever been before. They push laws and candidates that are unacceptable to half the country by changing the rules so that only their half is needed to pass it. And look what it's getting us. Change you can believe in.

    November 21, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  6. wow

    why would anyone (on either side) think this is a good idea? smh whatever...nothing we can do about it, they just do whatever they want...

    November 21, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  7. health

    It's about time!!!!!

    perhaps we can have a functioning government again.

    It was never meant to have a super majority. 51 out of 100 is how democracy works.

    November 21, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. SG

    All praise the will of the God King Obama and his high priest Reid.

    November 21, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. Alan

    Democracy has finallly returned to the Senate!

    November 21, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. John

    So from this point forward in our history the rules have now been changed. May as well just allow them to take their post without the dog and pony show of confirmation since there is nothing to vote on. However please understand the rules have changed and should GOP take control over the senate these rules will also apply.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  11. RC

    What goes around comes around Harry.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  12. brown

    It is time to refresh the entire Congress.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  13. Atoadaso

    'Bout time the Dems grew a pair. Maybe they can try out for a KMart commercial.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  14. snowyowl

    Republicans had it coming. Their unprecedented abuse of the filibuster rule has brought the Senate and the country to a standstill. Elections have consequences, and one of those consequences is that the President, with the consent of a majority of the Senate, gets to make appointments. The same goers for Republican Presidents and Senates. This is a small step towards an accountable government. When people vote for change, they expect change.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  15. jrhodeisland

    The American People are sooooooo sick of the obstructionism going on. This is not about Party. It is about poor job performance. After the ONE TERM PRESIDENT rhetoric slapped them in the face, obstructionism is the only way to try and make a popular president look bad, but Blue States are WELL EDUCATED, and will hold their feet to the fire. We follow the government, care about the poor, don't let religion blurr our sense of right and wrong, and wonder where are the rational people in those RED STATES. Look at these guys representing you... OMG

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  16. The Truth

    Farewell, Democrats ... you've had a nice run. It's time to let the adults run things in 2014.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  17. Justsayin'

    Well, I wonder if the House will retaliate with a complete budget shutdown. The Dems will have a difficult time responding that this bold power-shifting move was not the start of it.

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  18. Jim

    First of all thank you Nevada for forcing this idiot on the rest of us, if you love this senile hack so much, elect him your governor and save the rest of us from his partisan ways. Second I hope that when the Republicans are in the majority, they keep the nuclear option and cram all their appointments through, the Dems wanted this they can live with it. Also to all the Dems that stated the Senate is broken, you are correct, its been broken since Harry has been leader, not one budget passed, and has by passed senate rules and traditions to get his way, I hop[e the backlash on your party is severe

    November 21, 2013 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  19. Phil

    Fascinating how these Republicans posting here are aghast at the strong-arm tactics of this Democratic senate. After enduring repeatedly abusing any and all power, the Republican minority to dismantle government and sabotage Obama, they are all so "hurt" when they are on the receiving end of the stick. The notion that something may actually get done goes against their "principles".

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  20. SteveinLVNV

    This shortsighted stunt will cost even more Dems even more seats... 2014 will turn the tide, and this rule will be changed back or the Republicans will be sure to use it to their advantage!!! BYE Reid. et al!!

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  21. glaird

    "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
    Now all you 'democracy' types, who never studied your history to understand why the US was a representative republic, will find out how a simply majority can result in what is called "tyranny of the majority".

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. refuse2fail

    Just wait until the Republicans retake the senate in 2014...

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  23. larry kouns

    the ridiculously ironic part of this will be in about 2 years when the democrat minority tries to filabuster and the republican majority shuts them down. how moronic and shortsighted reid is.

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  24. mpf

    Harry Reid needs to go. Nancy Pelosi needs to go to. We need a more moderate democratic party. More like JFK

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  25. MiNiMaTiC

    This filibuster rule change only applies to certain appointees, not Supreme Court Justices and not pending legislation. This is a good start. While I don't think SC or legislative filibusters should necessarily be eliminated, I think there needs to be a rule change that requires those who filibuster to actually be PRESENT and actually SPEAK.

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
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