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. ray

    i thought the american people were smart, boy was i wrong. this should was supposed to happen sooner, BRAVO REID. mitch can cry all he wants but the truth is , is this republican party never wanted this blackman in the WHITE HOUSE. the are doing all and everything they can to stop all his agenda. i do hope the american people wake up and votes these racists on the right all out of office.

    November 21, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. ya right!

    Yep that's the smell of Pee in the GOP wheaties this morning...

    November 21, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  3. Libtards are responsible

    Clearly a dictatorship under King Hussein.

    November 21, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  4. Viventis

    There have been vacancies on the federal bench that extend back to 2004. Appointees need to be approved or rejected, not held up for years.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  5. Jill

    Nicely done. 'Bout time.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Really? The GOP will right the ship? Someone needs to wake up. The GOP is the party of not getting it done.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  7. Retiredplt

    This is quickly becoming NOT America. Obama and rthe democrats must go!

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  8. Barney

    The democrats with Mr Raving Lunatic President will now pack the DC Circuit Court with liberal judges with lifetime appointments. The supreme court should overrule this. No more. The states should just say NO to whatever the DC Court rules on. Eff U.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. Erik

    Than you Mr. Tyrant!! you just gave the conservative Republicans the Senate in 2014!! Keep up with your tyrant ways, please!!!

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. Darwin

    About TWO MILLION old angry white Conservatives are DYING OFF each year, being replaced by more moderate boomers. If these people had their way, blacks would not be allowed to vote and have to move to the back of the bus. With these right-wing haters gone, there will be little or no chance for electing anyone but a middle of the roader for President in 2016.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. enough

    Garbage, Garbage, Garbage!!!!

    broken in Washington – eject em all. Let the people take back the land and the system..

    to bad for democrats if it is impossible to get a win. changing the rules? might as well call it tyranny.

    this is not a function of fair or not fair – it's a BS move by babies

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Bob Hope's Ghost

    HA HA HA liberals that think this is a good thing are clearly clueless.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  13. Kenneth the VI of Minneapolis

    Eventually, politics makes hypocrites of those who engage.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  14. alligatorarms

    This is fine. Allowing filibuster is a stupid idea to begin with. Never understood it, for either side.

    November 21, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    So the Senate has essentially killed the Filibuster rule. This sets a very dangerous precedent where the majority will get their way via mob rule. According to Henry David Thoreau: “But government in which the majority rule in all cases can not be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.”

    The founders understood that the minority had to have a voice, and that voice was the filibuster. For the Senate to consolidate power in this way is completely unthinkable. But, John Adams predicted this when he said “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

    I find it odd that all those people complaining about Republican Filibusters were threatening revolution when the Republicans considered changing the filibuster rule in 2005, over the very same blockages

    November 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  16. Lisa

    I guess, like we Republicans and Libertarians and Tea Party folk, we are not surprised that Pres Obama is making a 1 party system out of the country. Say goodbye to freedom and choice. He needs to be IMPEACHED. He is not for America or it's people. He is Marxist and runs the country like Saul Alinsky wanted. He has no other reason for wanting to be Pres than to see this great country go down in flames. We have to get rid of him.

    November 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  17. I See Your True Face

    Be prepared, the revolution will now come to your doorstep, this tyrannical government and obama must be stopped, your dictatorships will fall, be prepared We The People will bring it to your front door.

    November 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  18. Chris

    I am so happy they finally did this. There is absolutely no reason why a small majority can completely bring the country to a halt. This was long overdue.

    Entire Presidential agendas etc. have been derailed because of filibusters. And yet the uninformed public then blames the administration for things not done when, in fact, its because of the Senate Republicans that every thing is blocked.

    Now finally, the country can move forward and Ted Cruz can hopefully stay in his place (Texas). He spent countless hours reading Dr. Seuss in the Senate to filibuster and guess what conservatives and Tea Party: IT WAS ON AMERICAN TAX PAYER TIME (AND SALARY). HE COST THE COUNTRY $24 Billion.

    Enough.

    November 21, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  19. Concern

    Isn't anyone concerned about what the American government is up to? They have been increasing governmental control, spying on citizens and other countries, and now decreasing resistance for the legislation those in power wish to implement. It is a very scary time to be in the United States.

    November 21, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  20. Johnny Triumph

    Mr Obama yet again wavers in the breeze, not leading but being led by those in Congress. What a shame that we will have wasted 8 years of bickering with him at the helm.

    November 21, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  21. dalene44

    “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.” -Harry Reid April, 2005

    November 21, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  22. Heil Obama!

    Fascism in America. About time Damon time Obama!

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

    In the short run, this is a good thing and needed thanks to the Tea Party/Sarah Palin fools who have completely screwed this country over... but in the long run, just like putting your new love interest on display in front of your psycho ex, you can be sure there are bad things to come... really pathetic that adults elected to such an important civil position/duty can't even get along as well as a playground full of kindergartners...

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

    So the Democrats made it so the tool used to ALMOST stop Obamacare can't be used again...Democrats, can I ask you one question...have you SEEN OBAMACARE? Now there's no way to even slow down your next train wreck. Thanks. A–holes.

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

    HAMMER the GOP, and then get rid of all of them in 2014.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
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