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. Thomas

    And you right wing GOP Obstructionists don't think you would do the same if the circumstances were the other way around ?

    The republican party needs rehab !

    Ted Cruz and the Aqua Buddha are planing another Government shutdown in March.

    November 21, 2013 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  2. JR

    The only thing the Republicans want to do till 2015 is eliminate Obamacare. No other significant laws will be passed. The Dems are basically doomed, so they mind as well put some appointees in place while they can. Politics have gotten so horrific, there's nothing to lose.

    November 21, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  3. Thomas

    Republicans have abused the filibuster

    GREEN EGGS AN HAM

    November 21, 2013 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. just saying

    it will be so enjoyable to see harry reid in the minority after the 2014 elections. crying, whining and squealing like a stuck pig about how the republicans are passing everything on a simple majority vote. be very careful what you wish for harry, because like Obamacare, you might just get your wish, and your worse nightmare.

    November 21, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. Cascade

    I'm a moderate republican, but some of these people seem to be quite the extreme righties....how else can you explain the ignorance they spew. It's astonishing at the level of ignorance I read from some of these people, and what's even more sad is they genuinely believe they are correct.

    November 21, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. Bfisher

    How many people here would actually follow if people started protesting for change in the streets? Give me a thumbs up for yes or down for no.

    November 21, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  7. bxgrrl

    Finally! All the Repugs have done is obstruct, obstruct, obstruct in their myopic and dysfunctional fervor to make sure President Obama is thwarted at every turn. It's ironic that this is being spun in MSM as making a
    "partisan environment more divisive" when it's obviously the only way to get things done.

    November 21, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "This seems like the exact opposite of a nuclear option.. this is the disarmament option."

    BINGO!

    November 21, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  9. rapierpoint

    I find it amusing that Reid has his panties in a wad because the minority side can filibuster. Especially since he, a single person, has brought legislation to a halt all by himself by merely refusing to let it even come up for a vote to go to the floor.

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  10. Cory111

    Drop it right, far right of course on the top of their heads Harry.
    Hillary 2016

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. Sniffit

    "it will be so enjoyable to see harry reid in the minority after the 2014 elections."

    Yeah, that'll make President Romney's agenda so much easier to enact.

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  12. Jody

    All the Democrats have to do is provide the documents Lindsey Graham requested on Benghazi and the Republicans will vote on Obama's appointees. This just creates more suspicion about how the incident was handled and why they are trying to hide it.

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  13. DK

    If they'd been using the filibuster responsibly, this wouldn't be happening. Since they can't handle the responsibility like adults, take it away from them.

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  14. Guest

    They'll be sorry when the next republican is elected. LOL.

    November 21, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  15. Pratt

    Great news!!!!!!!!!!! It's ridiculous that a minority in the Senate has complete control of their agenda, and Senator Reid is an idiot for allowing the rule in the first place. The "DO NOTHING" Congress that occurred under GW Bush look like worker bees compared to this Congress.

    November 21, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  16. Fr_SOC

    Harry's days are numbered. I think Nevada has had enough.

    November 21, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  17. katherine

    It doesn't matter anyway – they are all the same, Democrats and Republicans - this is just an attempt to give substance to the illusion that there are actual differences between the parties.... it's all silliness.

    November 21, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  18. Larry

    Do it Dems – long overdue considering the group of traitors you have had to put up with in this senate. Do it now:)

    November 21, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  19. frank

    This will come back and haunt the democrats for decades to come.

    November 21, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  20. rlr

    so tired of this whiny reid "nuclear option" garbage – our nation should not be run this way... he blocks legislation all the time that has passed the house but HE doesn't like – from even going to a vote... but then when things are done per the rules of the senate – he doesn't like it so he threatens temper tantrum nuclear options...

    November 21, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  21. tjp44

    here's this years choice for biggest idiot...or was it Pelosi?....either way! GET THEM OUT

    November 21, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  22. liberals love nukes now?

    so when did liberals start liking nukes?

    November 21, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  23. Lenny Pincus

    Good. It's called democracy, not rule by the minority.

    November 21, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  24. Matt

    While the GOP is STILL obsessed with Obamacare, the rest of the world would like to move on to other problems. Make the change so that we can all move on please.

    November 21, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  25. Dan

    The fundamental problem causing dysfunctional government is the republicans refusal to leave the nineteenth century. The country is never going to return to the oligarchical injustice of the past. At some point this tiny minority of billionaires attempting to suppress the will of the majority will need to resort to physical violence. At that point all pretense of rule of law is lost and revolution ensues. Yes it can happen here.

    November 21, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
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