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. Name

    “The threat to change Senate rules is a raw abuse of power and will destroy the very checks and balances our founding fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government,”

    I wonder who said that in 2005 concerning chaning the rules on filibusters.....*cough*Reid*cough*

    November 21, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. Adam

    Glad to see this rules change. The Republicans have been on an historic filibuster rate. Now they'll actually have to try to negotiate rather than simply saying "No" over and over.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. Big Boy

    Sounds like war at the federal level. This will start at the top and trickle down to the citizens if it hasn't already. Civil War anyone !

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  4. SeeThruIt2

    This will cause even more division betwene Congress and the Senate. Obama and Reid think this only applies to the judicial nominees. But, Congress will now harden their stance on all other negotiations.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  5. ironmike

    New rule number 1-TERM LIMITS NO MORE THAN 8 YEARS IN ANY GOVERNMENT POSITION AND 8 YEARS COMBINED SERVICE-RULE #2 ALL POLITICANS GO ON OBAMA CARE WITHOUT A SUBSIDY(ALREADY MAKE $174,000 PER YEAR).R ULE #3 NO PENSION FOR WORKING ONLY 8 YEARS.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  6. coloradom

    If the Republicans ever get a majority back in the Senate, I hope they change this back. I realize that they view this as obstruction, but clearing the 60 vote hurdle is difficult, which is why it is necessary.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  7. Rick

    This is corruption and deceit by the Democrat Party for all to finally see.

    Our president is a thug and Reid cares nothing about this country and only about his power. But Democrats will greatly regret this decision because it won't be long when Republicans have the majority in the Senate and will be a blast not having the filibusters by the Democrats.

    Reid will regret this decision for years to come.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. MP in VA

    While I'm not a fan of this move in principle, in reality, it was necessary. The Republicans can cry foul all they want, but their lack of vision and leadership has shrunk them like a wounded boxer whose only recourse is to put up his hands, roll into a ball, and block until the bell rings to save him. They have no strategy otherwise, and will get creamed in the next round.

    November 21, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  9. mg

    Of course Obama is going to support this, why wouldn't he? I can't wait until the day he leaves office. What an embarrassment to our country.

    November 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. Carol

    Re Obama's previous statement, "I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. 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," he said on the Senate floor at the time.
    Just like everything else he says, nothing rings true. Lack of trust and integrity continues to sink his Presidency. I just hope our country can survive it.

    November 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  11. Juan

    Obozo and Demorats carries fire in one hand and water in the other

    November 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  12. zeb Minas

    CNN says: The controversial move is a rules change that could make a partisan environment even more divisive because it takes away a sacrosanct right for any party in the Senate minority–the right to filibuster"....

    And in what way does this make the partisan environment any more divisive? How could it be worse? At least now the minority party will be forced to consider compromises in order to get some of what they want in a bill.

    November 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  13. Chris

    Unbelievable! We don't like the rules, so we will just change them to work for us. Seems I remember the Republicans trying to change voting rules prior to the last election and Obama and the Dem grilled them for it.

    November 21, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  14. Cathy

    Wow! Here is a man with no clue on anything and he blames the Republicans for everything. At least they do something, like it or not and they are not turning this country into a Socialist Republic. Kiss your rights goodbye and be prepared for eavesdropping on your phone conversations, just one of the many things that you will lose. He blames them for everything and never the face that stares back at him...he is a loser as a POTUS, his legacy is a joke, just like him, oh, revered leader! lol

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  15. Mark

    I'm glad to see things might be working again in Congress. Every time I see on the news, when either Party doesn't get their way, they decide to throw a temper tantrum like a 3 year old does when he doesn't get his way. They'll cry, make a huge fuss about it, and decide to pinch pennies and throw away millions of dollars. Let's hope that both parties begin to work together to make America better as a whole, rather than trying to see which one can suck up to the head honcho the most.

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Additionally, Boehner should go nuclear as well.........and nothing should pass the Congress at all
    -------------------------------------------------
    You need to step out of that medicine cabinet you're living in.
    They've been there and done that.
    The reason why the US Senate is firing it's ICM is in order to defend themselves from the GOPeeing Tearrorists they've been battling for the past 5 years.
    Live free or die I say!
    Keep your finger on the button Harry!

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  17. Ed

    Funny how one party in power wants to change the rules to better serve their intentions. Just remember this post... In time, the Democrats will want to change the rule back when they dont have a majority in the senate. Im just saying.

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  18. JP

    You reap what you sow; this whole thing would comeback to haunt them one day

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  19. Bob Burns

    (Note: I am not a Democrat)

    2:25 PM Eastern, All four of the CNN news hosts, Wolf / Crowley / Gloria Borger and Dana Bash DID NOT even discuss the Democrats side of the argument and they all agreed that the Democrats were wrong, objective reporting? CNN I am not a Democrat and even I noticed your one sided reporting, you guys are irresponsible amateurs, no wonder your ratings are in the toilet.

    Why did CNN fail to report / mention the "Record Breaking" use of the filibuster by the Republicans over the last 5 years? Filibuster...? the whole world knows its been about Republican obstructionism, they openly admit it. Over 400 filibusters is all the proof needed, compare that to ANY term from ANY president. CNN does not ever report the news they just say what they think is popular opinion of the moment. CNN is the biggest joke / fail of cable news and that is EVERYBODY's opinion and the polls. Even John Stewart, the fake newsman does a better job of reporting than you posers.

    I wonder if CNN even knows how to do a simple google search? or do they just get their facts from Wikipedia like Ron Paul?

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  20. I have opinions

    Good. They should rule that not doing your job is somehow doing your job, which is all a filibuster is. It's doing anything you can to delay actually working.

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  21. Ken

    It figures...if the Obama administration doesn't get it's way....they want to change the rules so they do get their way!
    Personally...we have the most corrupt and selfish group of people leading our country. FIRE THEM ALL!!!!! Let's start over!!! If they want to make a rule that actually makes sense...make a rule that states they cannot make more than $100k per year to represent the people...and they can only represent the people for a maximum of 6 years and then they are DONE! Oh...and Obama...you want to fix healthcare? Set regulations around what hospitals and doctors can charge!!! That's where the real problem is!! Obamacare is joke and is not going to help us on any level. If the pricing was regulated then folks could actually afford it in the first place!!

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  22. mike

    Yep, the Dumbocrats will get theirs this coming yr and we can send Harry Reid to the home.

    November 21, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  23. Sniffit

    And while all the RWNJs her whine and complain about this limited filibuster rule change, their red state GOP/Teatroll governors and state legislatures are all busy CHANGING ELECTIONS RULES AROUND THE COUNTRY IN ORDER TO SUPPRESS VOTES. And hey, why not mention the way the GOP/Teatrolls changed the House rules on the night of the shutdown in order to make absolutely sure that the shut down happened and that nobody could stop it by forcing a vote on the Senate's clean bill.

    Your high-horse looks a mighty lot like a rocking horse, Teatrolls.

    November 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  24. 44calibergnome

    A power grab that would make Adolph Hitler blush.

    November 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  25. JokeofaPresident

    HYPOCRITES – Obama, Reid, Biden all took the floor slamming such discussion years ago. Now they are all for it. They will live to rue the day and I will laugh my ass off.

    November 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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