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. Walter

    I expect things will get more heated than it ever has before. This is when voting for your party (either one) will become crucial.

    November 21, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  2. Ozzie

    What comes around goes around. Another sad day in American politics.

    November 21, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  3. destroyerofeconomies

    Thank you for making things easier for the republican majorities in the house and senate next year Harry! Good-bye libs

    November 21, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  4. Rob

    The Dems have just destroyed America. Now the minority in this country, no matter which side of the isle, no longer has a voice.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  5. drowlord

    I find a change in the rules to be despicable, but...

    I'm not sure why the president should have such a hard time assigning his executives in the first place. He's head of the executive branch, and he needs the power to assign people to his leadership positions. I'm not sure how I feel about the change as it relates to the judicial appointments, yet. That sounds like a mistake.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  6. Mark

    Honestly the filibuster doesn't make sense regardless of who is in power. If you have 51 votes in a 100 seat body, then that should be all it takes to pass something. It seems ridiculous that it takes 60 votes to pass anything, regardless of the party in power. How many elections are won 60-40 or higher? If we applied that principle to elections, no one would get elected.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  7. BO

    What goes around comes around. This is another wake up call for the people who voted for Obama. These Harry Reid people swore to defend the constitution but they are skirting it every chance they get.

    DISGUSTING.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  8. socali

    If we go down this road why dont we just convert to a parliamentary system? I think this is the best way going forward. The current system is ripe for vindictive politicians on both sides to destroy the country.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. Erich

    They'll just vote the 60 Majority requirement rule back in before next election, just in case the Republicans take the Senate. Its all about them.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  10. Joe Blough

    One more full circle down the toilet bowl! Whether Democrat or Republican, neither should seize power this way. It will be abused in the present by those who have the votes (Democrats), and abused as readily by Republicans if/when they gain control.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  11. jeff

    They still have to get the bills past the REPUBLICAN Congress!!! hahahahahhahahahahahahha

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  12. KDP

    This upsets the balance big time,.. this would be a bad idea for either party to have done, but now Obama and Reid have succeeded in dividing our nation even more. He has also brought us closer to one party rule and a dictatorship.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  13. PassingThrough

    McConnell and Alexander whining about how unfair it is should be examining the midnight move the Republicans in the House pulled that basically gave ALL power to introduce bills to one person (Eric Cantor).

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    Obama ordered that..........and Reid complied.

    Of course Obama supports it........since he ORDERED it!

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  15. Freddie

    Unbelievable that people actually support this insanity – without checks and balances, we are doomed as a nation. I suppose you won't get it until you have someone telling you what to think, what to eat, who to vote for, where to travel and in the meantime relinquish much of your hard-earned money to the government because they know how to spend it better than you do. Fools, the whole bunch of you who so easily give up your personal freedom because you believe in the propaganda and lies. So vested in it as a matter of fact that when its falling apart right in front of your eyes – you still believe.

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  16. BO

    When the GOP takes over both houses of congress, the dems will regret this big time.

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  17. Edwin

    I just thought about this... why is this news? The HOUSE changed its laws radically in September to prevent most House members from being able to bring up certain bills - the rule change was made in a closed session with no debate, and represented the most dramatic rules change in over a HUNDRED YEARS. It hardly made news.

    So why is it no big deal when the republicans change rules to get what they want, but when the democrats do it there is scandal? The only reason I can think of is because the American people basically understand that republicans act like children, but democrats are supposed to act like grown-ups... and that is just sad.

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  18. Sama Mondeh

    This change is long overdue. I was beginning to wonder whether Mr. Reid had the guts to stand up to the GOP senators. I am glad that he has listened to JFK that: "Civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof." Let the GOP senators, including their leader, cry foul; nobody cares about the cry babies!!

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  19. Victor

    This is dumb and shortsighted. The filibuster should've remained, but simply made to work like it used. Just saying you intend to filibuster is not the same as standing on your feet for 20 hours and doing it. If Reid had just changed the filibuster rules in January to require an actual filibuster to take place this whole thing could've been avoided. I'd love to see Lindsey Graham standing for 20 hours just to oppose a nomination to the environmental protection agency.

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  20. Dwayne Hopkins

    Just like ACA "Obama Care" the Democrats will get what they wish for without doing research and looking at the repercussion. This will come back and bite them.

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Worst decision ever. The whole reason for the system of government we have is that it takes the advantages of all aspects of governemtn (democracy in the house, Republic in the senate, dictatorship in the presidency) and combines them all into one form of government. This is supposed to magnify the benefits of each but dilute the negative. By removing the Republic aspect of the government in the form of the senate and making it like the house it will unbalance the government.

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  22. Bertie

    In a democracy majority rules.

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  23. Alan

    For 225 years this has been the rule – Republicans could have done it several times, but they DID NOT.

    Listen to the comments by the Dumbacrats in 2005, when the Republicans threatened to do it. Then... it was called anti-American, Treason, and would destroy the USA – all by Democrats. Look at the videos from 2005!

    Even Democrat Levin warned that this is WRONG – Listen to the tape of him today. He quoted Biden, Kennedy, and many others who said the 200+ year rule should NOT BE CHANGED!

    This is outrageous!

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  24. larsfox

    You dems seem to forget that the dems used the filibuster against GW Bush appointments, and when the reps even mentioned the "nuclear option" the dems screamed bloody murder. There will be great wailing and gnashing of teeth when the reps regain the majority.

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  25. Kam

    Yet another example of partisan politics tearing the country apart. And from the comments here you're all blind to it. It's not one group thinking they'll always be the majority, or who will complain and when. We have a congress that is so partisan it does not work. We have executive and judicial positions that can't be filled because of fillibuster. That hurts Americans, and for what? Partisan politics. Down with fillibuster. Down with partisan politics. Down with the public watching politics like it's a football game. Get the government to work for the people again.

    November 21, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
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