November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
11 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. Gregg

    This is over 3 judicial appointments to the DC court. Republicans have only blocked 5 out of 215 judicial appointments. This is uncalled for.

    November 21, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  2. ash

    The very least Obama could have done is not comment on this, the very least, well he has nothing to lose anymore the way Obamacare is going

    November 21, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  3. Scott

    This usama Obama has three years left to screw this country up even more than he has already done. The left cries racism or we just don't respect the office. Well the man before him got way more crap from the press and he took it like a man. In fact bush never blamed Clinton for anything and so on down the line. Every time something came up with this guy he blamed bush. He has no ideas on getting American jobs other than extending unemployment Benny's and giving out sell phones. How about Obama care how much did we pay that Canadian company to do the web site 66 million. We have firms in the United States that would do it for half with no glitches.. Hey better yet I bet he wanted Russia to do it for snowden or china to relieve some of our debt the system has already been hacked what the heck give those countries our social security numbers. I wonder what he's doing now trying ways to get Americans working nah he's probably playing golf.

    November 21, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  4. IpseCogita

    I don;t get giving up a tool they know they will need int he future. Do they really think that they will be in power forever, or do they have some how they they will be able to reverse this when they are out of power?

    November 21, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  5. LOL - Canada

    You Americans are getting what you deserve. You voted Obama and Crew into office...... have any regrets regarding your vote? LOL – Canada.

    November 21, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  6. Joe B

    I guess the dems don't realize that this will come back to haunt them. Today they removed the checks and balances from the American people. These are not my words, but their actions. This group of dems are really on a power trip. I feel bad for the moderate dems that are going to pay the price because of Obama, Reid and Pelosi. It's time to rise up America and take our country back from these criminal thugs in Washington. 2nd Amendment here we come....

    November 21, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  7. Colorado Woman

    How quickly the Dems forget how they behaved with Bush!

    November 21, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  8. Sabre76

    A sad day for democracy in America.

    November 21, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  9. America, our country is bankrupt...cut the spending

    Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

    Reid and Obama have ZERO success with rolling out Obama(doesn't)care. They want almost tyrannical control where weak Senators will bow down to what Reid and Obama want. Now all Obama's radical leftists can get in quick and easy.

    Wait until the shoe is on the other foot!!!

    November 21, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  10. discouragedinMI

    Today is the day Democracy in America was finally put down for good. All the rest is down hill. The losers in America are now in control and the "winners".

    November 21, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  11. Tony C

    The founding fathers did NOT want simple majority rule. They were very against it. That's why we have the electoral college. That's why the Supreme Court can strike down voter approved law because it infringes on the minority. It's why this country has survived as long as it has. If you want simple majority rule ~ California passed a law by a strong majority to ban Gay marriage ~ enforce it....

    November 21, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  12. Semper Cogitatus

    I don't get giving up a tool they know they will need int he future. Do they really think that they will be in power forever, or do they have some hope they they will be able to reverse this when they are out of power?

    November 21, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  13. way over due

    This should have been done 4 years ago. We would have much better outcome from the congress. Party of NO will have to do some "work" for living. They (Party of NO, members of congress) will have to come up with alternatives and do peoples job that they are elected to do.

    November 21, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  14. Brian from Denver

    What I can't get over are the Republicans all saying, "Oh, look, Harry Reid is just trying to change the subject from Obamacare !"

    N

    November 21, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  15. camaro guy

    What goes around...comes around...

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. Mark

    It's amazing it took the Democrats this long to do this. I can't believe how out of control this radical version of the GOP has been. Our judicial system has been running on five cylinders just because Obama's moderate appointments weren't even good enough for them.

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  17. mario

    we already had a dictatorship with Bush & Chaney for 8 years !!!

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  18. Gregg

    This will hurt the country. Republicans have allowed 210 out of 215 of Obama's judicial appointments. This is nothing more than a power grab to pack the DC court with more extreme views instead of nominating candidates with broader appeal.

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  19. Brown

    Democrats have set the current rules.

    Don't let the Dictatorcrats change a thing.

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  20. ronald raygun

    repubs coudnt quit saying bhengazi 3 months ago, now they cant quit saying affordable care act.... i mean obamacare. if i remember correctly the republicans said they would do everything possible to make obama admin seem like a failure. thanks for choosing minority party over the people republicans, and thanks for bringing nothing to the table that benefits majority of americans.

    November 21, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    "If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it's not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back," incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said last week. "I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted. But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up." – Harry Reid 2004

    November 21, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  22. Nick

    So after an impassioned speech as a senator imploring the Republicans not to remove the filibuster, Obama thinks it is a wonderful idea now that the shoe is on the other foot.

    What a hypocrite.

    November 21, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  23. ug

    All for political gains to keep libs in the judicial framework for years to come...wait until next year when the GOP takes both houses...then we shall see who cry's foul...

    November 21, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  24. ChrisM

    "This group of GOP senators has done so much to stand in the way of President Obama's executive and judicial choices that they're responsible for ALMOST HALF of all filibusters against presidential nominees in history.

    Today, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats have put a stop to this type of unprecedented obstruction, giving the President's nominees - except those to the Supreme Court - an up-or-down vote."

    November 21, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  25. lB Colorado

    And yet no one does anything about it – just saying. Republicans do not have the backbone nor the power to really do the right thing and that is to impeach the president. I get phone calls all the time asking for money and yet I never see anything about impeachment in the news – both parties are crooks and have no spines. They have no idea what it is to be a "REAL AMERICAN". Get them out, the first round in 2014 and the second in 2016.

    November 21, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
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