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. Warrenroosevelt

    iowajoe56 It is going to start at "non-Supreme court appointments to our judicial system" but we both know it wont end there. You are also ignoring the obvious hypocrisy on this issue from the Democratic party. The Democratic party used this exact same tactic when George Bush was president.

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  2. Separation of powers

    Obama clearly never learned about checks and balances or the concept of separation of powers. He does not have the privilege of deciding what will be passed into law, who will be appointed, etc. If a party chooses to obstruct or oppose it's part of the American way. It doesn't seem like Obama much of an understanding or appreciation for that.

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  3. Ant

    Soon Obama will make a rule that he is special and shouldn't be held to the same rules when it comes to two term limits

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

    "an unprecedented pattern of obstruction"
    Obama's tactics and community organizing obstructions are what's unprecedented. Never has a president been screaming from podiums every day in our faces for five years – AND ramming through a law that most people don't want and not one republican voted for! That's UNPRECENDTED! He's delusional – and destructive.

    November 21, 2013 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  5. Investment Advisor

    You've done it this time Harry.....I hope its a slow painful death for the donkeys in the senate.

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  6. Real American

    At some point some body has to get tired of the obstructionist – REPUBLICANS. Do some work or get out of the way!!!

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. dave

    If you have extremists dominating the republican party little else can be done. The republican party will always be an extremist party from now on, so you really can't have the extremists gain the majority or the White House, that would be devastating to the World, as well as the Nation. Extremists now dominate the House, and the House has been totally worthless, they've done absolutely nothing, and some of the stuff they want to do, is, well, extreme. It is now extremely dangerous to have republicans around, since they are all extremists, we have no choice but to vote out all extremists, or vote out all republicans. Many republicans claim not to be extremists, but if you examine them closely, they are still extremists on many crucial economic and trade issues, as well as many social issues. There is no doubt, without exception, hands down, they are all extremists and need to go, for the sake of the Country. The more extremists we have the more at risk we all are, even extremists having a small amount of power is enough to stop the entire Country, as is the current example. To survive, we must get rid of all extremists, all republicans have to go. If not, we are likely to continue along the same path of slow decline into nothingness, just go away quietly, fade away.

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  8. jimbo

    Long past time. The GOP has been abusing their priviledge for far too long. Obama was elected by the widest margin since 1988. He deserves to be able to make appointments of his choice. The GOP would want the same consideration, and would very likely have used the rules change option before now. Time to move on instead of stagnating.

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  9. John

    whose rule? Harry reid because he says well this only applies to these nominies does not mean anything he changed the rule he better hope like hell that democrats win the senate if not the gloves will come off. Democrats including Obama whined about the so called nuclear option when he was senator and now supports it. BS

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  10. Robert N. constant

    Republicans can thank their Tea Party Extremists. With clowns like Cruz making a mockery of the system, Reid's move is necessary. As for McCain's threat, what else can they do? Take up arms to stop Democracy from functioning.? Once again you see the crazies jangling the keys to the temple

    November 21, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  11. Emperor Themble

    Hiroshima: "BUT YOU ALREADY DROPPED THE BOMB! DAMN YOU UNITED STATES! We're pacifists now! WHY?!?!"

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

    I have come to believe that the cult of Obama was fueled in large part by white guilt syndrome. People who felt voting a black president redeemed their racial guilt and anything but blind support would somehow make them racist. So they doggedly insisted in turning a blind eye to everything he did wrong, every sign of incompetence, because even acknowledging them would make them feel racist. It took something as obvious and enormous as the failure of ACA for these people to really wake up and realize incompetence, hubris and obtusity know no racial boundaries, and maybe, just maybe, it's Obama's actions, not his skin color, that are the problem.

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

    as a conservitive, I don't have to much of a problem with what they did. My main issue is they claim the republicans are holding up the senate, What about no budget approved in 5 years? The budget is a legal requirement. I think Harry is holding up the senate just as bad.

    November 21, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  14. Michael Eads

    Throw all the BUMS out...but start with the Dems!!! They are a dirty bunch of b*#$#(!) and will scream the loudest when in 2014 they lose the Senate and this rule continues and it will. No one trusts these people and it's time to clean the Senate in any manner necessary. Remember the words of Madison. From time to time......

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

    Should have done it sooner. Wouldn't have been necessary if Tea Baggers had a brain in their head, but they just had to have their way regardless of the country's needs! You act like a spoiled little child, you get treated like one!

    November 21, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  16. Will

    Why do we need 3 more judicial positions when that court's caseload has gone down so much? Why are we adding 3 lifetime positions when there isn't a need for those positions? More tax dollars going to waste.

    November 21, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  17. El Warbo Grande

    Reid, there's another way to fix Congress. It's called compromise.

    November 21, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  18. Warrenroosevelt

    RF, as long as the Fed keeps printing money the markets will rise. Once that support starts to tapper we will be in for a big correction. Businesses today are very uneasy about what the future holds – this administration has created a ton of uncertainty in the economy which is one of the fact patterns holding our economy back.

    If you are actually saving money and not investing it, then it is actually losing value.

    November 21, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  19. karek40

    iowaje56, I haven't had a decent candidate to vote for in years. They are all professional politicians who can't make a living outside of politics. As to federal judge appointments, they are for life, the length of appointment should be reconsidered based on their rulings they should lose their position if a higher court overturns their decisions some specific number of times, say 7 or 10. We need judges to rule on law not write the law by their rulings.

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

    Sure Obama is happy, now he can bypass all the nasty people who question even the slightest hair brained idea he comes up with. Maybe he should just abolish the 2 party system altogether.

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

    What comes around goes around it is telling that to work together to even discuss things Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Obama's version of leadership is no debate, no discussion, no working together. The Healthcare bill shows exactly what results when only one party runs a bill without discussion debate or even reading the bill first. A mess. The party of "NO" is not the GOP it is the entire congress and our LEADERLESS White House. Clinton worked together, Obama is incapable of it especially with leaders like Harry Reid who is a disgrace to his state and the nation. To hell with all of them all of congress and our worst president in HISTORY. Bankrupting and destroying America one more arrogant moment at a time. Retaliation is all this president and Harry Reid produces.........it is abysmal what has become of our Nation. A nation of give me, and take yours if you don't support us..........sickening.

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

    Goddog, of course not the rules now have been changed when Republicans could have used the nuclear option they did not and worked it out with the democrats so it would not have to be used. Democrats want there way or no way it is not the republicans and this should be a slap in the face to all Americans just some are too stupid to know it.

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

    The Democrats grew some huevos during the shut-down battle. Glad to see they haven't neutered themselves yet. Good for Senator Reed and the Senate!

    November 21, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. sly

    The deficit came down by over $400 billion last year.
    Health Insurance Premiums are at their lowest level in 50 years.
    US Military Veterans are finally allowed to get health care, after the Republicans spit on them when they returned home.

    Best of all, cancer victims are finally allowed to get health care.

    Thank you President Obama – history will likely treat you as one of the most successful Presidents in American history.

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

    Next Election get rid of Democrat Senators form Senate seats This the solution for to much Government My American People Remember that

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