November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
12 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. YeahRight

    I am a Democrat, and I am done with this party. This is the last straw. This is so partisan, divisive, and undemocratic that it is unconscionable.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  2. Ted

    Harry Reid should be thrown in prison.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  3. ForTheRecord

    Super progressive – wow, name says it all. Obama is doing a great job destroying his legacy all by himself as well as destroying any hope the Dems have in the next election. Have you read the polls? They usually have pictures so you should be able to figure it out.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  4. WhatsleftnoW

    Ok, so now what else will you come up with to divert the discussions from Obamacare? They have now drawn more straws up to divert the attention from Obamacare, what more? Got anymore tricks up your sleeves Dems to try to say "look! look over here at this, don't look at that! Nevermind that, look what WE are doing over here!" not much left to divert with, your fooling no one by your tactics only convincing you will stop at nothing to hold up that sinking ship called Obamacare. Well, not too many people are as dumb as you want them to be, they see through your sham, try harder next time.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  5. Gerri

    You Republican tea partiers are the real short sighted ones! You are the party of no - no health care for the poor, no clean water, no education, no secure neighborhoods and so on. You have stopped the march of progress for the very last time. In 2014 the people will love Obamacare and the Democrats WILL regain the House and return it to Nancy Pelosi's loving care. Take that, loser Rethuglicans!

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. Joe

    We need to just scrap everyone in the Senate, Congress and Executive branch and start over.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    "Just you wait libs, this is goig to come back and bite you in the ASS real hard after the 2014 elections."

    Yeah, whatever. The GOP/Teatrolls were planning to completely get rid of the filibuster next time they have control anyway. This changed nothing.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. Paul

    It's simple. if the democrats lose control, they will simply rewrite the rules again and make the republicans decide if they want to start the term off with a rewrite lol.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  9. borisgv

    Apparently the Obama Administration is a dictatorship that will just change the rules if they don't get what they want. It's sickening. This is not what our forefathers had in mind when they put together our governing bodies.

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  10. Demigod Vadik, CA

    This is only about the Presidential nominees...

    ...for now...

    ...Obama should really proclaim the enabling act of 1933 and get it over with...

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  11. Jack33

    It's about time. Republicans have broken all records for filibuster abuse, and it's high time they were stopped.

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  12. pgraham52

    Another power grab is right both Harry Reid and President Obama railed against this several years ago when they were in the minority. Continuous lies and deception.

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  13. Trip

    Outstanding...It is about time the Demos sat the Party of No on it's butt. These obstructionist have been weakening this country on every level with their stonewalling just because they don't get their way. The GOP is only concerned with being reelected and the right wing crap that sells in their crapbasket states...Right on Reid! Death to the Tea Party!

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  14. texasfan

    Of course the House dumped their own version of the "filibuster" about a hundred years ago. Yeah, it's been a long time coming. Filibusters have turned into inane abuses of minority power...I don't care which party's in power.

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  15. Jim

    CNN people are just posting the same thing over and over, get rid of this soundoff and put the regular voting system so people don't have to keep reposting to keep it in the front. Repubs are working overtime here every single page.

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  16. GadFly

    "They started it!"

    –Mitch McConnell

    So the GOP has finally devolved into a mob of 9 year olds?

    November 21, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    Good. The American people could no longer tolerate Washington's dysfunctional, tail-wagging-the-dog non-governance caused by the U.S. Senate's archaic filibuster rules.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  18. Widget in Texas

    "The need to muster 60 votes in order to terminate Senate debate naturally frustrates the majority. I’m sure it will frustrate me when I assume the office of the Majority Leader next year. But I recognize this requirement as a tool that serves the long-term interests of the Senate and of the American people." Harry Reid, 2006

    I guess Harry has been taking lying lessons from his boss.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  19. Republicrat

    It's about time Reid found his stones and used them. This has been a long time coming.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  20. srcactus

    What this dumb stunt does, like it or not, is open the door to a free and simple impeachment of Obama if Republicans are successful in 2014. The crimes are there and energizing the opposition party is just not very wise, especially in the divisive climate the now exists in Washington..

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. Escout

    Harry Reid basically took one for his home team, the Democrats, because he does not care about his own political future. Democrats should be embarrassed to have a clown like this as Senate Majority Leader. Let's hear what they would say if the Republicans pulled a stunt like this.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    "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"."

    Oh gee, better get out your flux capacitor and go back in time to tell that to Jefferson and Madison and the rest of the founding fathers, cuz guess what: THE FILIBUSTER IS NOT IN THE CONSTITUTION. Hurry along now...wouldn't want to miss your opportunity to make sure the founding fathers know what a mistake they made by leaving it out.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. Freddo

    I have a friend from law school who was Bush nominee. The Dems stalled Bush confirmations in the same manner, including that of my friend. The parties are both equally guilty of this behavior and, during the Bush administration, Harry Reid took the lead in facilitating the confirmation delays. He's a hypocrite and exemplifies exactly why all incumbents from both major parties, and any third parties, need to be tossed out. My guess is that he is playing this card now to draw attention away from the disaster that is Obamacare. As always, Reid, like may others in DC, cares more about his party than he does about his country.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. Anthony

    then i look up and see obamacare, which has nothing to do with this and it is not a failure. The website doesn't work so the law is garbage. guess you said the same thing with medicare part d. Then again most of you don't even know what that is. Guess when Bush proposed it and we came to an agreement it was because of the republicans not the democrats negotiating. The system as a whole is a failure to the people who pay the government to do a job and they spit in our face. Rep or Dem. They have more protection over there jobs and more protection then the people who pay them and put them in office. Don't just blame one party, blame them all.

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  25. Kenman

    Now we have to watch this poor excuse for a President come out and make ANOTHER statement, bobbing his head up and down, instead of from side to side, because his prepared comments are laying in front of him rather than the usual teleprompters that he even took to an elementary school classroom in the past because he can't be trusted to talk without his words being written by someone else!

    This Presidency is getting so old and divisive and destructive!

    November 21, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
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