November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
12 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. oliver

    There are many comments on here and even from the article which act like this is the end of the world or something. Grow up guys. Even the article itself is misleading. The filibuster can only be ended in presidential nominations and even only in some of those cases. Guess what? That means this has nothing to do with Obamacare, it has nothing to do with sweeping legislation of the future. Its the job of the executive to hire a good team who is on his page. That's why he has the power of appointment. Why were these being blocked in the first place? Do we want our government to work? Right- republicans would rather have no government at all.

    November 21, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  2. StormySyndrome

    Let the step by step removal of checks and balances begin :) In all seriousness, i do hope the Dems remember this when the Reps are the majority :) Their day is coming a lot quicker than they imagine.

    November 21, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  3. rnelson

    Apparently we now have a king or perhaps a budding dictatorship. Good to know that one party can just eliminate a procedural right on a whim, and that the puppet president goes right along with it.

    November 21, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  4. mark

    The filibusters were not over used. The democrats did a complete flip flop on this. If you don't believe me, just listen to their speeches about how bad it would be to do this when it wasn't for their benefit. This country is screwed!

    November 21, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  5. 1CentFree

    It's about damn time! I'm so sick of all of the damn filibustering! Let the real majority rule for once! Dem or Rep it shouldn't matter. It's the obstruction and waste of time that most people are sick of.

    It was going to be only a matter of time before politicians started to filibuster an incoming president's acceptance speech on the night of the election!

    November 21, 2013 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  6. LiberlsAreLame

    Matt, Obamacare failed and it hasn't even started yet. CNN is full liberals. You don't think liberals are going to stay at home during the next elections when most of the countries workers insurance costs have tripled? HAHA

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  7. Bill

    If O-DUMBA approves it is definitely moving the country in the wrong direction. I'm beginning to believe that there will be an uprising in this country in the next 10 years. I'm beginning to understand what happens in all those countries overseas where you see mass riots and things. A government running amuck, how sad. :(

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  8. John

    The GOP are greedy hypocrites who want nothing more than to control our country for their own personal, financial gain. They are like the 1% who rig the system in their favor, pay laborers small wages, and then pronounce how they "became successful on their own."

    I will not vote for a GOP politician again...ever!

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  9. JohnRJohnson

    When the Republicans filibustered the nomination of Chuck Hagel when he was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, the writing was on the wall. That was the first time in the history of the republic that a congress filibustered a nomination for that position. Reagan had 8 circuit court judges appointed. Obama has had one. LBJ faced ONE filibuster in the 6 years he was president. Obama has faced more than 350 in 5 years.

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  10. Tony in STL

    Republicans have totally abused "every" obstruction power on the book. If they ever get into "any" position of power again, they'll just attempt to change every rule that they've taken advantage of. Too easy, old, and tired "game"! And if "the people" keep falling for the some "old" ...why not. Find a fool, ...bang their heads a few times, make them dumber! Old saying ...but apparently works!

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  11. NorsemanIowa

    That is what allows the party with little power to have a say. That is what this country is about. The real trouble is that each party wants it their way and not what is best for the country as a whole. The founder fathers would never have thought those in power would only care about themselves and a few others.

    November 21, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  12. Kathy in Houston

    YAY! It's about time! And for the people who complain about rule changes, pull up a map of your state legislative districts.

    November 21, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  13. S. Dabby

    I trust that one man one vote is fair in the long run.

    November 21, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  14. Mike Denney

    Republicans have silently played the 'reverse-race' card since Obama's first election, by misusing any congressional tool they could apply, in their attempts at sabotaging anything he tried to do.
    The filibuster was originally a 'technical loophole' used by Congress to go up against a particular bill, language in a bill, or pieces of other legislation that were attempting to be slipped through in a piece of legislation. What these spoiled brats have started doing with the filibuster is tantamount to the spoiled rich kid realizing he wasn't going to win the local sandlot baseball game, so he packs up his toys (baseball, bases, bats), and goes home to cry. Actually, more like the same spoiled kid having daddy park a bunch of his dump trucks and other stuff on the lot so nobody could play.
    It's long overdue that someone in Congress forces the spoiled little rich brats to keep the ball in play–we'll decide who wins the game, once it's actually allowed to begin.

    November 21, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  15. Dee

    This President is not Normal! Thats why we have the great Divide. He wants to be santa claus and give away all America has worked for!

    November 21, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  16. John

    Should only be used to get an up or down on appointments....nothing else...........for that purpose I say, about time....there is no reason for one party to freeze the entire legislative approval process.....

    November 21, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  17. mac qurashi

    Senator Lamar Alexander stated that the vote was political maneuver so the Democrats and do whatever to push President Obama's programs. This is what democracy is all about. President won the 2012 elections by a resounding majority. For Republicans to hinder him by denying his appointments is nothing but undemocratic. If minority is allowed by some silly rules to buck the majority then why we have the elections and call ourselves a democracy.

    November 21, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  18. Berylene

    It's about time. The Founding Fathers never imagined the rule of the Senate by the MINORITY!

    November 21, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  19. not again

    I wonder if Democrats will think this is a good idea when the republicans are the majority?

    November 21, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  20. Berylene

    Yeah, Senator Tom Udall. Thanks for leading the effort.

    November 21, 2013 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  21. jj

    The GOP trolls are going nuclear over this!

    November 21, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  22. derek

    You libs are delusional and short sighted. 2014 is going to be so much fun.

    November 21, 2013 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  23. Sally

    THEN SENATOR OBAMA: "I sense that talk of the nuclear option is more about power than about fairness. I believe some of my colleagues propose this rules change because they can get away with it rather than because they know it's good for our democracy."

    HARRY REID in 2008: As long as I’m the leader, the answer is “no.” I think we should just forget that. That is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never, ever get to that again, because I really do believe it will ruin our country (nuclear option). I’ve said – I said during that debate – that in all my years in government, that was the most important thing I ever worked on.

    November 21, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  24. Frank

    Short sighted and dangerous for us Dems. After all we won't stay in power forever.

    November 21, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  25. carlin123

    Just one more step towards making the President King.

    November 21, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
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