November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
9 years 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. Wakeup

    Great idea Harry. Change the rules. It will be great for when the GOP takes over the Senate next year.

    November 21, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  2. rl

    It is high time that this option is used. The republicon/tea bag party has obstructed the United States enough. If they had the votes to defeat the nominee then do, if not put forth why they should be defeated. If they have neither or these, which they don't they need to get out of the way. I was always told: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.

    November 21, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  3. dsmith

    actually meant to say I paid $56K in taxes last year,

    November 21, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  4. Roger

    Benghazi, IRS targeting of conservatives, Changing jobs #s, Lying to the public to get your landmark bill passed by ONE vote, shutting down the government when you're wrong, Running guns, Spying on the world(and lying about it instead of being a damn leader about it), Threatening Syria, and then backing down, "most transparent" administration in history, Not knowing anything about anything... etc etc... this is they type of "leadership" you get out of a community organizer. The biggest divider EVER, "if he were my son, he'd look like me", all he does if fuel division in this country, he's hateful.

    Thank you Ben Carson for smacking this clown around, Get these clowns who are destroying this country out in 2014 and 2016. Can this country get any worse? Vote Democrat and find out, oh yeah, whats up with Obama sending more troops to Afghanistan? What a hypocrite, hey "keep gitmo open" JUST ONE MORE LIE from the biggest liar to ever hold the top office.

    November 21, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  5. Juanito

    When repubs had control and behaved like the dems currently are, they were vilified as being meanspirited, arbitrary and not considering everyone when they pursued specific appointments and legislation.

    Tables have turned, and dems and the left still are saying that of the repubs.

    Warning to the dems: 2014 will be a changing of the guard, and whatever is implemented to pursue your goals will most likely be used against you when you become the minority again.

    There will be little sympathy from the populance as we will be busy trying to find jobs and ways to pay for our medical benefits, courtesy of Obama's regime.

    November 21, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  6. DJones

    I sincerely hope Americans wake up and stop voting the most worthless people into office. We don't need any more liberals and we can do without right wing extremist as well. We need people who at least have some character, unlike Obama the Liar in Chief and Biden his bullying, conniving side kick. We certainly don't need Hillary, she is as bad as Obama. We need some new faces.

    November 21, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  7. cosmok

    First off, 6 out of the top 10 wealthiest in congress are Democrats. Second, both political parties are in bed with large corporations. The Democrats just a good job of pretending that they're not.

    November 21, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  8. CHUCK

    Geez..i read all these comments..reps are sure they will take the senate in the fall etc..BS..not gonna happen. AND Hillary will be the next pres..that aside and for this filibuster thing..I say go nuclear..the republicans have said from the start that they will oppose anything suggested by the president. They dont deserve to be treated fairly. They deserve to be smacked in the face and sent to bed without supper. I say go nuclear and give them something to cry about.

    November 21, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  9. Eric

    Reid has cause most of the dysfunction by his partisan ways. Hay Harry, remember the moment you do this, I would expect the house and senate to remove the judges and other appointments by impeachment. Then the president will be a real lame duck! You reap what you sow!

    November 21, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  10. anchorite

    About time. Republicans have been abusing this privilege since Clinton, and it's time to get rid of it.

    November 21, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  11. jason

    yawn......1.2.3...... Reid collapses again. I will not be voting democrat again until Reid is the leader

    November 21, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  12. seanster77

    How in the world does no one ever just have to pop his ugly nasty mean mug sometime or another? What a vile horrible looking and acting man.

    November 21, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  13. Laughing

    Let Reid do it, it will set the precedent for repealing Obamacare by a simple majority vote once Obama is out of office

    November 21, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. American Worker

    Apparently Harry Reid is in charge; not Obama.

    November 21, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  15. Eric

    @pkMy11, the only party that is destroying our country is the part that passed obamacare!

    November 21, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  16. sammy750

    McConnell is now using every blocking procedure to stop votes on the floor. He and his fellow Republicans are the radical and extremist running our nation.

    November 21, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. Big_D

    The GOP has certainly made government dysfunction into an art form. That really doesn't help us fix anything but at least they are experts at destroying our government. The GOP goal is to eliminate government and they really have done a good job of making government ineffective. I personally like having laws and protections but you vote GOP so you get what you voted for.

    November 21, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. Bret

    Didn't the house republicans just change the rules so only the majority leader can call a vote on the house floor, and thus refuse to do so even when the votes exist to pass legislation?

    November 21, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  19. Patrick

    The appointment process is really to only time to mke sure that a crooked or politically influenced judge doesn't recieve a LIFETIME appointment. The 60 vote filibuster is a check and balance against corrupt appointments and now the Senate majority leader would like to make it easier to potentially wong appointment – in the name of "fixing Washington" – It sounds like further brreaking it to me. The real question in all of this is who is the President planning to nominate in a few weeks or months that he knows wouldn't get the 60 votes, but will want to push through anyways?

    The real problem in Washington is the lack of compromise. Too many law makers see compromise as a bad thing, when in fact it's the life blood of our legislative system. Further cramming votes and changes for the worse down people's throats is creating more division and both sides are doing it. Mr. Reid if you truly would like to fix Washington – fire yourself, McConnel, Pelosi, and Boehner!!! When the team is consistently broken – look to the leaders, therein lies the poblem!

    November 21, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  20. Zeke

    Who cares? When the Republicans get control of the Senate in 2014, they can use the same rules to bypass the Dems. Then the Dems will tell everyone how terrible it is.

    November 21, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  21. dave

    It's an example of why capitalism and democracy cannot co-exist, eventually capitalism destroys the democracy. So many right wing politicians are bought and paid for by the riches people in the Country. Their entire tactic is too make the rich richer, while the masses suffer in poverty, destroying the middle class, making more poor people, then making the poor suffer even more, while the rich make incomes that they could not possibly spend in their lifetimes. They justify this by convincing the easily duped that they must have huge riches in order to create jobs, while they sit hording trillions, offering no jobs, offering no jobs because there is no demand for anything, no demand because republicans have been hugely successful in holding down incomes for working people. The only solution is to vote out all republicans from Office, all of them, from the lowliest Office, all the way up to Members of Congress, every republican has to be gone, otherwise it is the end of democracy, and the end of the riches economy in the World. Republicans with a majority in either part of Congress would be disaster, certainly a republican President would destroy the democracy and the US, heck Bush came darn close to destroying the entire thing, we are still suffering from that fiasco, and likely to be suffering from it for generations to come, just like the Reagan Administration, so much suffering, and so hard, if not impossible to undo.

    November 21, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    Where was the GOp/Teatroll outrage about changing rules when the GOP/Teatrolls changed the rules on the night the gov't shutdown so that they could make absolutely sure that the gov't would shut down and that nobody could bring a discharge petition to force a vote on the Senate's clean continuing resolution, which they knew would pass and stop the shutdown?

    November 21, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  23. American Worker

    It's time for Democrats, that are still pro-Liberty, to stop answering to the party Oligarchs.

    November 21, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  24. Dr. Sam


    PROTECTION OF MINORITY WAS NEVER INTENDED IN A DEMOCRACY TO BE MINORITY RULE–otherwise it makes elections a mockery. McConnell foisted upon the Senate more than 400 filibuster in leas than four years. Reagan had only one filibuster in eight years. McConnell wants to rule while in minority.

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  25. geeman99

    Interesting – a "democrat" that wants to do away with democratic methods. As stated in the article – when democrats were last in the majority, they argued against EXACTLY what Reid is trying to do now...he needs to sharpen his memory AND look into the future (when the democrats next have the majority in the senate). The US government is all about checks and balances...and now the DEMOCRATS want to change the very HEART of our time tested government!! Shame on you guys!

    November 21, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
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