November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
8 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. Kyuuji

    heh, I wonder how quickly Reid will try to change it back once there's a Republican in the White House come 2016?

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

    This has happened only because republicans abused the filibuster by using it against ALL appointees w/o regard to their merits which had never been done before.

    November 21, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Expected action from cry-baby DNC who know only how to exclude opposition and double down on failed policies. This is dangerous! Reid and Obama both need to be in prison.

    November 21, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  4. brian

    Why is Reid still causing damage? He needs to just go away like B.O. and his buddies.

    November 21, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The GOP have allowed the Tea Party to drop a "Bomb" on the American people when they Shutdown the Government and they never got mad about that. If that isn't proof Republicans don't care about the American people I don't know what to tell you. Let the Republicans stay mad because they haven't done a damnable thing but collect a pay check and take vacation.

    November 21, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  6. conrad

    I do believe that a simple majority vote is what the spirit ofthe laws were written for anyway. That everything must pass the filibuster test is really kind of rediculous. It only shows how we've broken down into a war-like 2 party system. Members of congress should be able to vote across the isle, and work together for the common good. The filibuster wasn't ever intended to be used on every single vote. It was mean for when everything else has failed ... and then the objecting person/party had to actually sit there talking in an effort to have their view heard/understood.
    Sad times ... the GOP has gone off the rails and in my mind forced the Dems to do this.

    November 21, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  7. patty51

    Is this President really this ill informed about what happened in the Senate. This only applies to judges at the exective level and excludes the USSC and has nothing to do with legislation being passed through the Senate. Some one needs to sit this president down and educate him before he start spouting off again. This is how he got in trouble with his ACA.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  8. bhartman36

    So this is what it comes to. Adults no longer run the Senate.

    Okay. Good to know.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  9. BC

    Its about time!

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  10. Really?

    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.
    _________________
    Could u be any more of a kool aid drinking obamabot? Under Obama the rich ARE getting much richer and the "ordinary" man are the ones getting the s c r e w ed. In case u have not noticed, the poverty rate has gone up and middle class income have gone down. U like that "ordinary" man? When will u wake up and see that the Dems could care less about the "ordinary" man. I guess its ok to be shafted as long as their is a D next the name of the guy doing it.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  11. conrad

    I do believe that a simple majority vote is what the spirit ofthe laws were written for anyway. That everything must pass the filibuster test is really kind of rediculous. It only shows how we've broken down into an unworkable 2 party system. Members of congress should be able to vote across the isle, and work together for the common good. The filibuster wasn't ever intended to be used on every single vote. It was mean for when everything else has failed ... and then the objecting person/party had to actually sit there talking in an effort to have their view heard/understood.
    Sad times ... the GOP has gone off the rails and in my mind forced the Dems to do this

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  12. KC

    About damn time! Look rethugs have done nothing but block President Obama at every turn as was their plan from the first time he was elected. As far as the 2014 elections go methinks the dems will emerge with the edge.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. PushingBack

    Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told reporters the nuclear option "puts on a chill on the entire United States Senate."

    No John, that's the angel of death getting ready to take you away.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  14. KeninTexas

    What comes around, goes around.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  15. steve

    Another slap to the face of the American people. After Obummercare and all the dems lies it's obvious the people trust Republicans more than democrats. Can't wait till 2014 and 2016. Real hope and change is comming.

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  16. al

    This is Ukraine and Russia legislative ways of handling issues!!!

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  17. Lone Ranger

    Aiding and abetting Reid in his felony-takeover were his fellow travelers at CNN
    Gutlessly allowing all fellow-traveller posts and deleting all conservative ones (again!)

    November 21, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  18. KrjMc

    Good! Some people are just incapable to meeting half way, besides last thing we need are more conservative in the Judicial branch deciding that business are people and putting our voting process up to the highest bidder. They GOP is reckless right now and until they are able to understand that 50% of us will never agree with them, that the world is not going to stand still and wait for them to catch up, the sooner they will be able come to terms with a changing world and figure out they are there to do what's best for the whole country not just the few thousand who voted them in.

    November 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  19. Lynne Buchanan

    So the move for the Executive branch to include the Senate continues to be a reality. The worst problem with these kinds of tactics is the politicians that believe we are too stupid to take our reactions to the voting booth! And that Americans will continue to vote for the side that purports to be all about the people when it they are really all about power over the people. I am amused at those who find this action comforting so the Republicans somehow lose. IT IS THE AMERICAN PEOPLE who lose when one group seeks to silence the views of the others. And just one more time for the record, just because the Dems and the President tell you the Republicans shut down the government, doesn't make it so: ALL budgets but Obama-Care were funded by the HOUSE; Harry Reid and the President determined NO VOTE to allow those budgets to be approved to keep the government open. If we want to change something, let's change the position description of the Senate Majority Leader to avoid "Senate Dictator" , given HOUSE bills and NOT allowed for vote by this egomaniac.

    November 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  20. NameFrank Deery

    Reid, Obama, losers on Obamacare-less, looking for Any Way Out of 2014 Elections, which with ever rising crime(Obama base, not Republicans), and breakdown in services,
    airlines, et al, Resonates With Voters! Who will select Republican Order over Liberal-waste in 2014.

    Period!

    November 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  21. Jeremy

    Adding laws and appointments can be just as damaging as blocking laws and appointments. I hope the dems understand the impact of what they are unleashing here.

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

    For two centuries this was a working part of Congress. A protection for the little guy, the minority. Once again the Progressives are removing protections, curbing the rights of the individual and the minority. This is always their goal and their plan wherever and whenever they can throughout history. (Germany, C & E Europe, Cuba, Venezuela all come to mind.) We the People were given a wondrous system filled with checks and balances to curb the power of the ruler and the elite AND the mob. Progressives work at removing all such checks and balances. History has shown that Progressives and Liberals are incapable of recognizing how such removal of protections will inevitably bite their own behinds. Future Democrats will curse Reid, but as with every other aspect of America, he just doesn't care. What a bad bad man.

    November 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  23. Voice of Reason

    Just a distraction from Obamacare. This news will become old news by the end of the day, but, the people will continue to get the shaft on healthcare and insurance policies cancellations.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  24. seafoodwatch

    We need a more moderate government that can make compromise and accomplish managing the finances of our country, that is their job. The senate should make an example. Filibusters are for whimps.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  25. TheBigT

    The only way this worthless president and the worthless democrats can continue to pass the same BS they keep trying to pass. This country will soon fall into deep economic collapse. We cannot continue to spend money that doesn't exist for all their pet projects and plans and laws that DO NOT WORK and NEVER HAVE. Impeach them ALL and start over.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
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