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. MidLifeCrisis

    Just remember what goes around comes around. Dems won't be the majority in Senate forever and when the Repubs gain control the exact same rule will apply.

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  2. Kouzes

    In complete seriousness, I plead with the American public to PLEASE impeach this jacka** who continues to think that he is a leader.

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  3. Greg

    wow, talk about tilted!! McCain says he spent an hour with his arms outstretched to Reid? Power grab by the Dems? Are you freaking kidding me!! The GOP has literally blocked everything and everyone in the Senate that this President has nominated. They have literally said that they will not approve any more of Obama's nominees to this powerful appeals court...not because of the nominee, but because they simply want to block Obama! That is total b.s., and Reid had no choice but to pull this trigger! Come on CNN, bet it right....the GOP was begging for this to happen because of their total abuse of the filibuster. They didn't just occasionally use it....it was used constantly to thwart everything, it was their main tool to disrupt and derail...if anything is to get done, it that rule had to be changed. DONT' MAKE THE GOP OUT TO BE SOME POOR AGGRIEVED PARTY....ARE YOU KIDDING! FAR FROM IT...THESE SNAKES GO EXACTLY WHAT THEY DESERVED!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  4. neastsider

    The last dozen or so of votes on nominees to fill various vacancies haven't been over their qualifications or background; they've all been over the main reason that Pres Obama nominated them. All of the rejections are due to bagger ideology of conservative political purity of keeping the baggers in power and Pres Obama out of power. Reid should have put this change out there months or years ago

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  5. Adolf Hitler

    I also agree with them, Obama and Reid is my soul mate

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  6. Heinrich Himmler

    Harry Reid, I love you.

    November 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  7. Eric in missouri

    Mr. Reid you are a fool. As are most dems in office are this day and time. Obama and Reid just want to take heat off there head for this great Obama care we all heard so much about. Please worst President ever. Obama cant even own up to his own lies. we all make mistakes grow up and own it and tell the truth about everything and most Americans would forgive you. You should try it, o that's right to late most of Americans you have already turned against you. Thanks for being Honest. I forgot you don't know what that is.

    November 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  8. Chris

    LOL, now back to Obamacare, Benghazi, the "guns for drug cartels", cowing down to Afghans President, and I almost forgot -- a President that lies to the American People.

    November 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  9. rick

    Win elections first, republicans! . You won't change the Obama agenda at all !. You are doing the right thing mr president!.

    November 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  10. FrankinSD

    You were very patient, Harry. But time to get some work done.

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  11. jamvee1941

    I'm glad they finally did this.

    Now, I can hardly wait for the next time the Dems are in the minority and can't use the same tactic that they've also used (repeatedly) in the past!

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  12. Evander

    Just wait, in the future when the Reps pull this, the screeching will wake the dead.

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  13. Justin

    Ahhh.....same old politics....restrict the right of the minority to move your agenda along. hahaha sad administration, sad party....more of the same old sad American politics from both groups!

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  14. StevieD

    Commie takeover – just like Venezuela

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  15. Eric R

    I hope the people here that support it now remember that when it comes back around, because it will. At some point there will be a Repub president and majority in Senate and you will not be able to block any of those nominations. It is in place to ensure checks and balances of the separate branches. This is a slippery slope we are beginning.

    November 21, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  16. mitchgam

    A better solution might have been to make all filibusters bipartisan
    Meaning if you can't get anyone from the other party to agree to a filibuster, then it is less about an issue and more about just plain obstruction.

    November 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  17. DeathofCommonSense

    Don't like the rules just change them. This ObamaCare was warned that it was going to be a train wreck. Right now we're seeing a train wreck in progress. Obama has even tried to separate his name from it the last few weeks if nobody has noticed. Of course this socialist is going to agree with what the senate just did.

    November 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  18. Eric Darling

    Hey Republicans...what a bunch of losers. All the Right Wing can come up with is to block, obstruct and filibuster every Jobs Bill or judicial appointment that Obama sends their way. You have no alternatives to the ACA Bill. You offer nothing but lies to the average working class American. Your Party is going the way of the Dinosaurs.

    November 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Obama new about this? He usually says something like "If we had known"

    November 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  20. Nick

    And here comes the start of the revolution. The majority voted in favor of tyranny – we'll remember that when the tables turn.

    November 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. Completely Disgusted

    This is becoming more and more and more of a dictatorship everyday!!! When is everyone in this country going to wake up and see this!?! It doesn't matter how many times one party filibusters, it is all part of our checks and balances system to keep one party from completely controlling everything and performing their will, not the will of the people. Maybe every American in our great nation will realize this and come next election replace that democratic who is in office.

    This is starting to resemble the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuala!!! Come on CNN where is your reporting; why are you not beating the Door of Senate Down Demanding answers???

    November 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Reserve

    It may not be the ideal solution, but something needs to be done to get this government working again. Everyday it's the same old thing – blocking this and blocking that. Nothing is getting done and its frustrating. I am sure everyone wants a functioning government and things are looking pretty bad now. The election is over and the GOP needs to get over it.Enough is enough!

    November 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  23. Greg

    OH and for the GOP to be able to turn the tables, they have have both the senate, AND the White House....while they make retake the senate (temporarily) in 2014, they can kiss the White House good by for a long, long time....and it may be many decades before they once again control both of them. The GOP is very close to being permanently locked out of the White House due to their bigoted policies and the rapidly changing demographics in this nation (which do not at all favor the Republican party,) so in that raw political respect, Dems didn't really have a lot to lose...but so much to gain by finally eliminating the total abuse of the filibuster by these Republican zombies....now McConnell can explain to his caucus why he has now reduced their power down to, well, that of House Democrats....that is, simple majority.

    November 21, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  24. just saying

    demorcats invented gerrymandering to rig congressional district elections in order to carve out minority seats for democrats and rejoice at their brilliant chicanery. and then complain about gerrymandering when others do it.

    democrats changed the rules of the senate in order to essentially remove the rights of the minority in how this nation is run and they rejoice at their brilliant chicanery. and then will complain violenty when they are expected to live under the same rules after the 2014 election.

    obama, and now harry reid have ensured the destruction of the democrat party in 2014 first with obamacare and now with this act of treachery. but i'm sure they'l blame it on something else, probably george bush, as they always do. you see, it is never them or their actions.

    November 21, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  25. Richard Cory

    All you Libs whining about Republican obstructionism check this: Hard Right Repub Pres and Senate, feeding the Military, cutting Social Services, UN-regulating Wall St, and appointing the most Conservative Judges, God in all Schools (and add all other Conservative wish lists) – and expect the Libs to go along with all of it. If they resist ANY of it, they will be just racists, ignorant, America hating uneducated fools. How does that tinfoil hat fit? Now you see the dilemma we are in.

    November 21, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
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