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. Bill

    Finally, the Democrats discovered they collectively have a spine.

    If Republican obstructionism continues, I fully expect they may see the filibuster ended for all votes in the Senate.

    Although projecting down the road 10 years for budgetary matters may be prudent, the governmental impasse needs to be stopped now, and this is, in my opinion, the way to get the ball rolling.

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  2. Hugh J'Ardonn

    Harry Reid will be the first one to whine when the Republicans get to use Harry's new rule against the Democrats. As for Obama, he's not a threat. Nancy Pelosi has more b a l l s than Obama. Nancy and Harry are the dynamic duo running the Democrats.

    November 21, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  3. Miles Pro

    So the GOP was able to avoid doing this by finding agreement across the aisle, and the Dems couldn't get an agreement so they just changed the rules?

    November 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  4. Hugh J'Ardonn

    Harry Reid will be the first one to whine when the Republicans get to use Harry's new rule against the Democrats. As for Obama, he's not the problem. Nancy Pelosi has more b a l l s than Obama. Nancy and Harry are the dynamic duo running the Democrats.

    November 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  5. Dee

    Finally! Now let's move forward and help the President succeed!

    November 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  6. Data Driven

    @colinc,

    "This is so short-sighted. Do the Dems believe they will always have a majority in the Senate? I guarantee they'll be complaining about this when the Reps are in control of the Senate again and they can't filibuster."

    Then why are you complaining? Just win those elections in 14 and 16 and TOTAL POWER TO APPOINT JUDGES IS YOURS

    November 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  7. badua

    Go ahead Reid do it. Republicans would easily do it. They think they own America. Look at all the nasty things they are doing they don't care about ordinary people. All they care is their party. If we allow these people to become President, we are doomed. The Kohl and the rich men will dictate for America and make more money. America wake up.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. jay in florida

    The lesson that the GOP should take away is... you transformed the filibuster tool into a sabotage tool. You basically broke the toy.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  9. Don Quixote

    2014 is coming. :) It will be interesting to see how Mr. Reid feels about this rule change after the election.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  10. California Migrant

    And all the sudden I'm back to Venezuela.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. Galactus

    This is a terrible idea and Harry Reid will go down in history as a curse on the Senate.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. Bob

    .....but Republicans will NEVER have a majority again in the Senate. After amnesty for illegals is passed it will be a one party country. Enjoy.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  13. Liberty in Exile

    What a Shameful Day for America. Today we begin on road that only leads to tyranny, the tyranny of the majority over the minority. If we as country do not understand the deep implications of this acts, we deserve a tyranny. The Dems, and Repubs did it because it was their right to do it. Because majority cant just overstep the minority. That's a fundamental steeping stone in the American Systems. What's next? Today, the majority will hunt Repubs, tomorrow they will chase White people because their forefather sins, tomorrow they will take your property because you have to much, All of these will be good because is the majority's wish. A shameful day, and a day to remember who throw the first stone to what was America.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  14. HowCanYouBelieveAWordHeSaysAnymore

    This will pretty much rule out any bipartisan efforts.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  15. Dean

    Super progressive

    Best news of the day. The republicans are hell bent on destroying Obamas legacy. We will make sure this does not happen. No more republican presidents. Ever.

    LOL-–Obama has destroyed his own legacy. He will go down in history as the biggest liar of all time.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Wow that is going to be sad for two years and CNN and the libs will think it is horrific after the next election. How can we have "leadeship" that can not even ask for shared view points let alone allow them to be incorporated to protect the views of all Americans. Hey Democart voters, this was your party's platform was it not, look out for the minorities and those grops that do not have a voice? So they just pass a TRICK to takeaway the voice of the minority. God Help Us All becuase our elected offficals are looking out for there ideas and not those they are elected to represent.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  17. Bob

    Deuce, I would be okay with removing the fake filibusters. I agree as a Repub that forcing filibusters to truly be the old filibusters of old is a fine idea.

    But, I also think the nuclear option is a blatant power grab and a disgusting abuse of power by the tyrannical majority in the Senate.

    November 21, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  18. GadFly

    "Nuclear option" is overly dramatic. The GOP changed the process radically by requiring 60+ votes to pass ANYTHING. That a minority can block all attempts at legislation and Presidential appointments without offering solutions to any of the nation's problems is yet another attempt to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections and shift the paradigm to a bankrupt "radical minority fringe rules."

    Like the President recently advised: "if you don't like something...go out and win an election!" I suspect it is just easier to tear down and obstruct.

    Even a child can break something.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  19. Charles

    So, the democrats are moving this country forward by allowing more government intervention and governmental power. Working out like a charm...

    Folks, do you really think that this is a good thing? I bet most people on this string couldn't name five things that the dems will pass to make our lives better. I think we should freeze this string for posterity and review it when the Republicans are the majority, folks like Smoke and Mirrors and others will be complaining that they are not heard as the minority party. Troubling.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  20. Matt

    Way to go Reid, finally some action instead of just talk.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  21. Sar in florida

    The lesson that the GOP should take away is... you transformed the filibuster tool into a sabotage tool. You basically broke the toy.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  22. NameEdoggy

    If this is the only way to get theses appointees through, then go for it. The GOP is using this action for the sole purpose of blocking nominees, just to be antagonist, then this action is warranted. The GOP is clearly playing political games that do not serve the country well. Vote them out!!

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  23. Joe

    "Not for the good of the current Democratic majority or some future Republican majority, but for the good of the United States of America."

    Sure, okay. Thanks for your concern. Most of you guys will be out very soon. Enjoy.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  24. biglio

    About time!!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  25. Susan StoHelit

    Exactly this:

    While it is true that Democrats opposed this maneuver when the GOP was considering it, there is an important distinction: Democrats did not filibuster everything and everyone. In fact, they allowed up-or-down votes on many controversial Republican nominees and bills, successfully filibustering fewer nominees than you can count on one hand.

    Now I'm not a big fan of either party, but on this issue it is impossible to argue that the Republicans are not to blame for today's actions by totally ruining the purpose of the filibuster. The filibuster was supposed to be a judiciously used power of the minority, only pulled out for the most dramatic of occasions. Under the GOP, the filibuster is used on virtually every vote they oppose, from the must mundane legislation to the most middle-of-the-road nominees.

    Those are the facts, and facts matter.

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
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