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. rob

    Geez. The last time the genius dems didn't negotiate and pushed something thru, we ended ended up with the obamacare debockle. Now they've bypassed DEMOCRACY and given themselves the power ram things thru.

    November 21, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  2. dkc_2001

    I remember 60 Minutes a while back where it was brought out that Republicans were fillibustering everything. Sour grapes from tired grumpy old men.

    November 21, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  3. James

    Comical. Plain commical. The democrats get angry when the republicans use the maneuver they so often used in the bush years. Lets not forget why these positions were vacant. Democrat obstruction during bush years.

    November 21, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  4. Chris

    Pouring fuel on what already is a wild fire.

    November 21, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  5. Tom

    Does anyone know who said this?

    “This is what’s really going on here, the majority doesn’t want to hear what others have to say even if it’s the truth,” ???? continued. “The nuclear option abandons America’s sense of fair play.”

    Hopefully if you lean to the left you will know the answer.

    November 21, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  6. Mike Buck

    Record number of filibusters in Obama's term by the obstructionist RepubliCONS and the Take Education Away (TEA) Party. What did the wing nuts think was going to happen?

    November 21, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  7. nosavynada

    In general you find that rules and laws were fine while they benefited the Democratic Party but as soon as they are an inconvenience they want to change them. Just one more case. Over 200 years of president and a late last minute back down of having it done to them in the past – overturned because with the polls dropping, the likelihood of changes or repeal of the Affordable Care Act. They revert to this.
    If America has not been awoken by the pass it so we can see the details rush on ACA, and other unusual methods to get what they want done, then this latest disregard for rules and precedent then we deserve what we get.
    Remember this in November and in 2014.

    November 21, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  8. ONeey

    This reminds me of the events in early Germany.

    November 21, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  9. ken

    Bad idea. Next time republicans are in power the ACA is doomed by a simple majority. Dems did it only for judicial nominations, but Pandora's box has been opened. Obama five years from now will regret backing Reid on this one. As a senator in 2005 he thought it would be a mistake if republicans did it. Republicans in the end agreed and didn't do it. The party in power has threatened with this bluff for a hundred years. But never did it. But this time Reid, with Obama's backing actually did. Incredible arrogance on the on the part of both of them. I'm shocked democrats went along with it.

    November 21, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  10. Who Dat

    Obama, Pelosi and Reid: The Axis of Weasels

    November 21, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  11. billybill

    This may come back to haunt them in the future should they ever find the tables turned.

    November 21, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  12. brian

    i hate it when a grown man acts like a baby to get his way

    November 21, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  13. A True Conservative

    Yup Dog....we are......I hope that Americans are finally starting to wake up and start worrying about the next generation.....but too may are too busy chatting on their Obamaphones.....

    November 21, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  14. julie

    I am so confused!;do any of our government representatives care about the people who voted them in office? I seen no need to vote the do not count our votes, they do what they want! Our president is a liar and I have no faith in him! He would sell America out for a trip to some far off place! He needs to keep his butt home and deal with cleaning up his mess!

    November 21, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  15. Erick Holmes

    I'll tell you what's a dictatorship, the DAMN Republican Party getting control of both parts of Congress and the White House, and doing away with Medicaire, Medicaid, Food Stamps and Social Security, as well as the health care law. You guys are so damn heartless. I see a Civil War coming. Republicans better be hiding.

    November 21, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  16. Cogito Ergo Sum

    It's about time the Dems did this. The obstructionist practices, including filibuster, of the GOP Senate have brought about this latest attempt to get the government back to the people's business. I hope it means the beginning of a new era of cooperation. The GOP cheated by using the filibuster gratuitously on every Obama nomination. They deserve what they get as a result.

    November 21, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  17. prism

    That was the correct thing to do. At least now the senate can get something done. We need a lot of federal positions filled which has been languishing vacant for decades, because each party filibusters the other when in power. I think we should do away with filibuster rules completely. Some say that it is going to worsen the divide. But come on, how can this dvidie get any worser.. lol. Atleast this time, they can get something done.

    November 21, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  18. conoclast

    'Republicans warned the controversial move would worsen the already bitter partisan divide in Washington'. Oh really?

    How much more bitter can the partisan divide in congress get? As we speak the tea-party's obstructionism is near-absolute; what more can they do, short of walking out on their jobs? (would their absence even be noticed?)

    November 21, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  19. Thaddius

    LOL oh playing the Communist card again. Oh, and the Hitler card too. That's not old at all.

    The Republicans have proven time and time again that they don't believe in America, nor do they believe in democracy. They want to use a long-standing gentleman's agreement to obstruct the democratic process, over and over and over again. It's about time they did this... and we know now that Democrat NOR Republican can abuse it again.

    Tyranny of the minority, that's all the filibuster was... at least for the past 5 years.

    November 21, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  20. SpgfldTom

    Harry Reid's "Nuclear Option".....voted for and brought to you by the same people who passed ObamaCare without reading it! Nice job Dems, but still own ObamaCare no matter how many distractions you create!

    November 21, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  21. Dr Tom

    This is a new Republican Party; it is time the Dems recognize that. If these Republicans ever get the majority in the Senate the 1st thing they will do, regardless of what the Democrats do now, is eliminate the filibuster. I can't believe that anyone doesn't see that. If by some miracle the Democrats keep the Senate majority and win back the House in 2014, then the Democrats should eliminate the filibuster for legislation, too (That would have no effect with Reps in control of the House.). Then we can finally get something done.
    This note is also being sent to Senator Booker.

    November 21, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  22. Bonnie

    Tomorrow is the 50th anniversay of the JFK asassination. Look at the state of our country with this Congress. Back then it was focused on Civil Rights, the Mafia, and war abroad. Now they are turning on us, the American citizens who put them in power and they are so full of themselves that they can't find the time to remember us. Unreal.

    November 21, 2013 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  23. Angelica

    I apologize for my ignorance regarding Senate rulemaking, but it seems like a white elephant in the room is that they could have simply limited the amount of fillabusters per year for the minority group instead of reducing the vote number needed to override it. Seems fair, and then the minority would have to use their fillabusters wisely...like timeouts in a sports game...

    November 21, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  24. misterflibble1

    It absolutely amazes me the mentality of the people commenting here. You all bring new meaning to the term "Uninformed Voter", seriously! "If you don't agree with my sociopathic right wing thinking, you're a Communist and you hate America." Really??? Why don't you all try listening to yourselves. And while you're at it, go look up some solid facts instead of assuming all the time. Geez guys, come on! Use your heads. I swear that most of you have the memory span of a gold fish as well.

    November 21, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  25. Abuse of power

    My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. – John F. Kennedy. Never heard him or any other President say, "what can the government give to me for free", or "don't ask, we the government will tell you what you need." Sad day today.

    November 21, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
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