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. Charles

    Power corrupts and attracts liars. The Republicans were in favor of doing this very thing when they had the majority and now they are opposed on moral grounds. The Democrats who thought this idea was so evil when Republicans had power now vote it since they have power. Power corrupts and attracts liars.

    November 21, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    hillary will make this all work out in the end.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  3. Jared

    This is dangerous ground they are treading on. It seems to be a common theme in politics these days.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  4. Reggie

    Not the smartest way to put it and get the entire countries hopes up.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  5. mgkdrgn

    Those that can not live under their own rules have no honor.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  6. Nancy

    Of course, Obama supports Tyranny. Look at ObamaCare.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  7. Jessica L Scott

    IIt's like watching my kids play in the sand box. The rules change according to whoever gets to sandbox first. When it is a Republican controlled Senate at some point I almost guarantee that they will whine and complain than too that they made a mistake. If only we hadn't been so short-sighted. Please grow-up and come inside the with rest of the adults!!! I'm terribly glad to be an Independent!!

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  8. tampamike

    The republicans are responsible for an unheard of amount of filibusters people do your homework. Never in the history of this country have we seen this. You don't get to redo an election you lost by obstruction. They forced this, the american people who pay attention have had enough of republican obstruction just because Obama is the president. You can dig a hole and hide your head from the facts, but they are out there. Hear me again, never in the history of this country have we had the filibuster used like the republicans have the last 5 years.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. Selmers

    Yes, God forbid that any member of Congress be able to actually stand for something.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. Kevin

    To think these people, both parties, actually have limits is ridiculous. THEY DO WHATEVER THEY WANT.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. Say What?

    I support this action, now its time to clean the HOUSE

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. ed

    I think it is the greats thing could happen to the GOP ( great obstructionist party). Kind of put them in there place.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  13. gary

    After 2014 we will not have to worry. 2016 will have a republican president, the DEMS will whine.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  14. Corinne

    Your once beautiful and free country is heading towards being a dictatorship.
    Obama will go down in history as the worst President ever , he has devided the nation like no other , that is what happens when you allow an inexperienced and incompetent community organizer be in charge.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  15. NCIndependent

    LOL. Hey, Harry and your Teflon President. Keep those diversions coming. How about how Obamacare is hurting business and the economy? People are waking up to these shenanigans. Some of us always were on to you. And hey, what happens when the Dems are not the majority? Watch this space.... because it will be happening soon.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  16. Bob Smith

    Republicans enjoy a majority in the House (with 550,000 less votes), a filibuster in the Senate (as the minority) and can outright block or sabotage anything Obama or Democrats have tried to do since 2010. And we're supposed to blame Obama and the Democratic Party for the state of things? Based on what, the two year window they were actually able to do anything at all?

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. Cyprustree

    If the GOP had been less adamant about blocking every single nominee, it wouldn't have come down to this. But since they are obstructionists at every turn, it seems that the only way for anything to get done i Washington is this nuclear option. If this upsets the GOP, perhaps they should have learned the meaning of the word 'compromise'. This is an adult word, rarely used by spoiled children trying to pretend they won the game when they actually lost.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  18. chris

    im a complete noob about politics but what is stopping them from changing it back right before the next elections.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. bidness owner

    So, Uncle Harry pulled the big one out. Wasn't it the Dems who sneaked in the ACA when they had 60 for like a month? Look what that's getting us. Oh, and all the crappy appointments that Obummer wants to bring in to bring us further into communism. Paybacks are hell, Uncle Harry!! I guess when your back is against the wall you have no choice? You just lost the Senate in 2014 because you led your people astray so might as well go for broke. Good luck with that!

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  20. Wow

    So let me get this straight...THIS ??? is the MOST important thing the Senate had to deal with? Are you kidding? Healthcare is in shambles...we have a looming budget battle (again) and THIS is the most important thing Reid is dealing with????
    2014 cannot come soon enough!!!

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  21. frmrma

    As an Independent, I find the partisan politics and ideals very entertaining. And it never ceases to amaze me that when a party holds the power, they all of a sudden decide that tactics they used when they were the minority are now a bad thing, and the things they thought were bad when they the minority are now good when they become the majority. Our current two party system is utterly hopeless.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  22. E Schuyler

    Harry Reid may whine but these Republicans are looking at losing a midterm election if they close the government one more time. Voters won't forget .... but again they won't forget Obamacare.... they have to decide what is the most important to them.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  23. Huckleberry7

    If Karl Marx had a son, it would be Barry.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  24. Eagle08432

    Obama and Dems trying to deflect from Obamacare debacle. This is a one day story and the deflection won't work. If Rep take Senate it is going to be funny as H when the tables are turned. Obama call such tactics a "power grab" when a Senator. The biggest liar and hypocrite to occupy the Oval Office in history. Not to mention the galactic incompetence.

    November 21, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  25. HJC

    Looks like the Democrats have resorted to demagoguery and tyranny to me.

    November 21, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
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