November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
9 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. Bud

    This may work out good for Dems. in short term. But its going to bite them in the behind in the long range.

    November 21, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  2. Todd

    Simple majority to me is not "nuclear." The more simply something is, the more likley it is to work. Right now, not much of anything works right or effciently in DC. If people did their jobs the way Congress does it during normal business, they would have been fired long ago!

    November 21, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. Abbey

    Coming from the Chief Hypocrite...this means nothing but the same.

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. SeattleReign

    Something needed to be done to move forward. When you have nominations on hold forever with something totally unrelated attached to it, you do not have progress. The GOP could not possibly care less about any legislation, as long as they can get even for losing both presidential elections. How is that representative government when everything is obstructed?

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  5. RichthanFamous

    Man this guy is smart as a whip. He doesn't want to listen to the sense Republicans are talking so he makes it so he doesn't have to. Why didn't they lower the required amount of votes down to something like 56-59? Because than he would need at least one Republican vote. Now they can fight filibusters even with four of their own voting against them. This guy was already pushing through laws at will this is essentially making him a dictator for the remainder of his term. Of course, the American people will let him get away with it.

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  6. Ken

    ah ha my way or the highway continues....... We don't like the rules so we change them.... Obama and his Congress are a walking side show..... and a waking nightmare.

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. Mayfray

    The Democrats needed a massive bomb to distract the media from the dismal state of Obamacare and the presidents radidily decining ratings. Thats the only motive behind this. Truth. .

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  8. Shelia

    Go ahead Reid but the people can still vote and the democrats will be voted out... POWER will never ever stay the same.. Think the LEFT forgets that!!!

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  9. Abbey

    Democrats are so 2 faced about this. No, it will not fix the Obamacare nightmare they created, so don't buy into this.

    November 21, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  10. anonymous

    Well, the US Senate is now the rubber stamp that Obama wanted in order to fil our court system and government with far left whack jobs. The pedal has now been put to the metal to run this country far, far left. The country is officially doomed from this point forward.

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  11. Data Driven

    (stepping up to the karaoke machine) Conservatives on this thread? I'd like to dedicate this one to you:

    "What I've got they used to call the blues:
    Nothin' is really wrong;
    Feelin' like I don't belong;
    Walkin' around, some kind of lonely clown;
    Senate Rules Changes always get me dowwwwnn"

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  12. Scott

    So, what it means is no can can stop you if you have the majority. Do you really think this will improve the performance of the Govt? Do you think what MAJORITY of our country want is the right thing? I think majority of the people wants to be rich by Govt handouts – is that right for our country though? All we needed is politicians to act responsibly. I can guarantee you that filibuster rules are misused by one party and now neclear option will be misused by the other party.

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. Karen

    Change everything for oopsama-he still cannot govern. It has nothing to do with another party. It has everything to do with putting a "community activist" with no other experience in the White House. What a joke he is making of our country-the whole world is laughing at you, and they can not take you seriously anymore sir, especially since they know you lie to your supporters. To all of you who supported this fool-pat yourself on the back you got what you want, and if you like it-then in my opinion you're just as ignorant and incapable as he is.

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  14. The REAL Truth...

    @Eric – The democrats will rue the day they did this. In the long term, the republicans will right the ship.
    -----------------------------–
    Where are the complaints from Boehner initiating the Oct 1st rule change in the House that required legislation being brought to a vote be approved by Cantor (or an approved deputy) ????? A deliberate attempt to prevent moderates from either party bring the (then) outstanding CR to the floor for a vote, and forcing the Govt shutdown!!
    Where was the faux outrage then???? Why is this move any different... reality is, it's going to get worse by both sides unless WE don something about it.. and that doesn't include the belief that voting either side into total control of both houses will solve the problem.

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  15. Susan Jones

    I agree with Eric ......

    November 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  16. Abbey

    The progressive hillbillies are looking for blood, and the average American citizen is up for food in their eyes.

    November 21, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  17. John Tighe

    Six years too late.

    November 21, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  18. Tilley

    If the Pubs had done this the media would be squealing like stuck pigs.

    November 21, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  19. spike

    Yes Pres., Obstruction is not normal, but then neither is having a tyrant for a president.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    We can expect them to scream plenty loud when this works against them.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  21. shiboof

    Nuke em.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  22. I AM

    Boy, I gotta tell ya...I've never heard so much crying from the republicans in a long time. I mean they are known as naysayers and whiners, obstructionist, pig heads but, this should keep the hot air flowing from them for a long time.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  23. hitman

    Freedom of speech being lost in America!

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  24. Politically Independent

    I love all of the irate posts coming from conservatives...."If you dont like the rules, just change them....". Hello? Do you remember the government shutdown, because you didn't like a LAW? It is time to take away powers that essentially allow political parties to obstruct legal decisions. This is a common sense rule change.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  25. Troy

    Hooray! Finally, Democrats are prepared to play dirty like the Repugnants. I've been so frustrated with the Demos unwillingness to fight fire with fire.

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
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