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. zappo15

    Now he is a bad guy because he does not want to have the extremists destroying the country

    November 21, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  2. Daniel

    Lets see.

    82 appointments blocked under President Obama vs. 86 blocked appointments under all other Presidents combined. Sounds like this change is long overdue.

    November 21, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  3. Jetranger

    meanwhile Obummercare is still a mess and will continue to be !! will somebody fire these jugheads ! please !

    November 21, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  4. ChrisM

    That is what republicans get for abusing the filibuster. You abuse it you lose it, republicans

    November 21, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  5. ShawnDH

    jrt1098 SCREAMED AND RANTED: This is nothing more than a ploy by Harry Reid to divert attention away from the Health Care Law debacle. LIBERAL DEMOCRATS like to play games and call Republicans obstructionists, while continually railing on the TEA PARTY ! Well ... it TURNS OUT those nasty TEA PARTY people were ... RIGHT
    RATHER than worry about the conservative ring of the opposition ... LIBERAL DEMOCRATS need to start worrying about the most radical Far Left politician in America's history ... taking the whole Democratic Party down the drain with him ... Barack Obama may in fact make it next to impossible to elect our NEXT black President !!!"
    _______________________

    Ummmm, you haven't been paying attention. This is a center-left country now and Obama was easily reelected. Maybe you should look in the mirror at what the demented Tea Party wackos have done to the Republican party. The Americans people overwhelmingly agree with LIBERAL DEMOCRATS on pretty much every issue, which is why you are LOSING.

    November 21, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  6. Disgusted

    Well, that is a step forward on the obstructionist practices. Now, let's get a law preventing another government shutdown over budget. Give them a few months to work it out, with funding at 1/12 of previously approved budged per month automatically funded, and then if agreement not reached for a budget, go to elections! With a little incentive, I bet they would reach a budget agreement

    November 21, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  7. dax

    I bet Obama won't agree with the nuclear option after next November. This rule has been in effect since 1789.... that shows you the depths that democrats will stoop.

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Dear CNN: It might be fine within the Beltway, but for the rest of the country, using a super large headline with the wording you chose about dropping a bomb is VERY irresponsible. I am amazed and very disappointed with CNN.

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  9. Chelopez

    McConnell- Bonehead- OUT!

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  10. FLIndy

    It's about time the Dems grow a spine and fight the obstructionists. We, the people, voted for President Obama twice and are expecting his agenda to be carried out and his nominees to be voted on. A simple majority of votes in the Senate should be all that is required on any voting. If it weren't for the ridiculous 60 vote rule we would likely have stronger background checks for guns. We will never move forward in this country if things don't change in Washington.

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  11. yeah right

    The democrats will change it back when the roles are reversed. They did it in Massachusetts, changed a rule to suit the party keeping power, and then changed it back when it could have been used against them. Hypocrisy

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  12. AmericianPagan

    We need to kill Jerrymandering, that way there will be *real* turnover in the house... and if a party does stupid things they will feel the repercussions. Pair that with solid term limits and this might do some good.

    Yeah, we lost one of the "checks and balances" but that was because it *was* being abused. frankly if the house where not Jerrymandered, and it's members actually had to WORRY about what people think, then this would not have happened.

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  13. Ade Badewa

    What took democrats so long? Repubs and Boehner are crying now? Oh no! Repubs, pls gerrymandering, keep changing election laws to keep minorities out, keep changing rules in house so democrats can't have a say! Keep obstructing. Keep saying Obama care is the cause of all problems, and shout Benghazi when you are running out of ideas. And you know what, the world will be a better place.

    November 21, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  14. shane

    yeah, it creates a domocratic congress, not something stalin invented.

    November 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  15. Thaddius

    I especially liked the time when McConnell filibustered his own bill.

    Republicans are the United States' greatest comedic assets.

    November 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  16. The Thinker

    Its a change that could allow Republicans to make progress in the face of obstructionism, if the Republicans can ever stop bickering and do something that Americans would see as a positive contribution.

    I would have done the same thing.

    November 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  17. mlb

    Congress acts like a bunch of spoiled rich political babies! The tea idiots have shown that the only way they can be dealt with is by giving them a time out when they act in their usual ugly, immature destructive manner. Obama is trying to do his job. Congress is not. Obama is dealing with these spoiled childrn the only way he can – by taking their toys away. Our congress is a disgrase to our nation!

    By the way, how' the budget coming along guys?

    November 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  18. Gilly

    Democrats have set the rules the way they are today.

    Democrats should not be allowed to change the rules they have already made.

    Democrats = poor sports.

    November 21, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  19. Billy

    Obama has made a serious mistake. Trying to rule the Senate with an iron clad rule, when he is in the middle of a fiasco that will undoubtedly be the downfall of his Presidency. He now has free reign to create other plans that could be even worse that what he has now. He needs to be taken control of. I voted for him twice and he has done some good work, unfortunately about 99% has been bad. I wish somebody would come up with a list of the Presidents accomplishments and his failures. A fair list, not one heavy with personal commets on good or bad plans.

    November 21, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  20. austin c

    wow it so funny to see dem vote against it before the were for it...or is it the other way... it's all the samwe to them...just give me free stuff...and they will vote for them...who cares the country is going under... even when the see this administration lie...they just don't care. where did the morals go in this country. they don't want to work...just free...but nothing is free...it will catch with us.

    November 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. sly

    Good – put the TeaBillieKKK in their place!

    President Obama has cut the debt in HALF this year. And the Affordable Health Care act is a major reason – insurance premiums are at their LOWEST rate in 50 years.

    The Health Care Act is working – our US Military Vet's finally are allowed to get health care after the Republicans spit on them when they returned to US soil. And thank God Jesus Himself that cancer victims are FINALLY allowed to get health care.

    The TeaBilliesKKK are evil – out to destroy America.

    November 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  22. Rough Times

    Well it's apparent that the democrats want to create an even far more dysfunctional government. I like the rule change because when the majority changes, and it will, it will make the minority party even more insignificant.

    November 21, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  23. ShawnDH

    Once again, Harry Reid has defended the will of the people against crazy Republican saboteurs and obstructionists. Give 'em hell HARRY! THANK YOU!!!!

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. Jon

    I do not know which is funnier... that actually Harry Reid has done this... or that Democrats that think this is a good idea...

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. Goshnell

    Where were the bipartisan leaders from BOTH SIDES this time? Why didn't they step forward to avert the "nuclear option" from being carried out?

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
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