November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
5 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 (2,692 Responses)
  1. Sheepleherder

    And when, as it inevitably will, the tide turns and they are faced with it themselves, I wonder if the Democrats will just admit they did it to themselves or will they cry and wail about how the Republicans are abusing the system.

    November 21, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  2. Frank Ch. Eigler

    Barack Obama 4/25/05: "The President hasn’t gotten his way. And that is now prompting a change in the Senate rules that really I think would change the character of the Senate forever…what I worry about would be that you essentially still have two chambers the House and the Senate but you have simply majoritarian absolute power on either side, and that’s just not what the founders intended."

    November 21, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  3. Dogman

    boo hoo for the republicans!

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  4. Wes Patteson

    Fillibustering.... This is a childish I'm going to my room and hold my breath and jump up and down until I get my way mentality – Not the way statesmen negotiate and collaborate and otherwise work together for the common good. It is not relevant that it has been done since the Roman Empire Days; its a dumb idea. Fillibustering should simply be abolished – You have 15 minutes and state your case and be done with it. I know that sounds "idealistic"; but most all good things come from such notions.

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  5. Fred

    It is sad that it has come to this. However, this is a direct consequence of having Republicans block everything and anything that comes from the President or the Democrats. Many of the Republican Ayatollas don't care about the country; their only priority is to derail anything that comes from the other side of the aisle.

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  6. jimi.

    Too little too late. I don't trust the timing of this, especially with chained CPI and the TPP coming up. This could be disasterous.

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  7. kim

    about time somebody pu their foot down

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  8. malibu123

    2014 is going to be a blood bath for democrats.

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  9. dutchtown

    republicans should have never relented on the shut down. I wonder if reid has ever rode on the back of Pelosi's broom, what a maroon

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  10. val

    One of the rights of the president of these United States is to nominate judges across the land. If the opposing party prevents this by not allowing the Senate to vote, then the Senate and the President have no choice but to change the rules within their power.................................

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  11. Habit

    The repukes just got what they deserved

    November 21, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  12. The Real Tom Paine

    I always remember Karl Rove saying that all you need is 50% +1. I guess he really was right about something for once. Oh, and btw, it allows a President to nominate and have an up and down vote of Cabinet appointees, dstricts court appointees, not the SCOTUS. For everyone saying this is democracy out of the window, I refer you the the Hastert rule and ask you if that was ever fair?

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  13. Wallaceboy

    Of course Barry supports this. He is a strong proponent of the one party system and this draws us closer. Loyal opposition, checks and balances, debate, compromise - all words absent from the Obama/Dem vocal. Recall the outraged at the house recently? Now it is OK because the Dems are doing it. Wait until the R's gain the majority in the Senate and use this move to toss the dens under the bus…..I can hear them crying foul now…..Liberal court appointment here we go...

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  14. barbarae

    2014 will come and we will demand that the republicans use this new power to stop obama until 2016 when christie becomes president and we will demand the republicans use this new power to push for any appointee he wants. The democrats are famous for cutting their own throats to spite their face.

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  15. Libtards are responsible

    Reid clearly got beaten up on a regular basis as a child.

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  16. newscale62

    I hope the Republicans are fans of the Gap Band...

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  17. GhostDogNY

    Its about time this administration took a stand against the Republican race haters. The Republicans constant efforts to bring this administration and our Country to a halt because America voted in a black President has been their #1 priority. It is obvious to everyone that this is the reasoning behind this idiotic Republican agenda. Nothing can further divide this country and govrnment beause it is already fully divided. We need results and this is the only way to make any forward movement whatsoever.

    November 21, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  18. Dr. Cole

    So, let me get this straight. These judicial appointments are "life terms" and they will be seated by a mere 51%. This just isn't right. The 3 branches of the government have a system of checks and balances. This system of checks and balances is thrown out the window with a simple majority. It allows too much power to a small group of people. The opportunity for corruptness or back scratching is too great. That's why we need a super majority for people that are going to serve the rest of their lives in a judgeship. We can't just simply vote these judges out of office...it is not the way a republic works nor the way a democracy works.

    November 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  19. JD

    when the Dems eventually lose the senate, they will be thanking the great villian, harry reid

    November 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  20. Jack

    When George Bussh was president, the Democrats held up his appointees. Yet the Republicans did not invoke the nuclear option. Now, when President Obama meets opposition and cannot get everything he wants when he wants it, they invoke the nuclear option. What hypocrites!

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

    This administration is a replica of the SADAM administration. Didnt we bust him for being a dictatorship. Whats good for the goose isnt good for the gander belives obama.

    November 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  22. jrcomo35713

    Its time to move forward with this country and stop concentrating on a broken website that takes time to repair which everyone in this country knows and voting no to everything else that is put on the table to proceed. We are way behind in every category. We used to be first in everything.

    November 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  23. DaveinFlorida

    Eric, I don't know whats funnier about you comment, that Republicans will "right the ship", or that the Democrats will "rue the day".

    November 21, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  24. SonicYouf

    “Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues to think about the implications the nuclear option would have on this chamber and this country. I urge you to think not just about winning every debate, but about protecting free and democratic debate.” – Senator Obama, 2005

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

    This whole democracy hurdle is just too big for the democrats to have to deal with.

    November 21, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
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