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. srcactus

    Harry is going all in at a really stupid time. As though we don't have enough divisiveness, cheating, lying, and arrogance in Washington D.C. as it is.
    Republicans were getting the blame for the government shut down and Harry, in his infinite wisdom erases any advantage that Democrats may have had with this bone head play??????
    Don't ya just love the food fights in the D.C. playpen!

    November 21, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. carewhatuvote4

    Good can't wait until the socialists lose control in 2014. Then the republicans can go about fixing the damage to this country

    November 21, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. sickofitall

    I get it, but I am so sick of rules changing or being broken because someone doesn't get their way. I don't want to pay more for worse health insurance and I can't break the rules...come on man!

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. outrage

    really? This is all that the senate has to worry about? Pushing a democratic agenda when we have so much going wrong with this country? How about you idiots in congress stop worrying about your respective parties asses and worry about America which is burning all around you?

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  5. rdeleys

    Republicans need to shut up. No one would be talking about this so-called "nuclear option" if Republicans hadn't severely abused the filibuster - and you conservatives know it!

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  6. karl from az

    Don't blame anyone except YOURSELVES! YOU, the majority of foolish, ignorant, apathetic and/or plain stupid AmeriKAN electorate, keep electing/re-electing these politicians: what do YOU expect?

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  7. Charles

    Democrats want to push for filibuster reform simply because they need something to distract angry Americans from the truth about Obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. Gloria in NW

    This rule, no matter who is in power, should have been done away with years ago. I say this as a Democrat knowing "what goes around comes around." If the Republicans control the Senate later and vote stuff in we don't like with 51 votes, well that's supposed to be the way democracy works. The 60-vote rule is undemocratic and thwarts the ability of the Senate to get anything done. It is most certainly not about the will of the people, but about a powerful few holding us all hostage.

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  9. ShawnDH

    Go Harry! We're taking our democracy back!

    November 21, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  10. Voter

    After 8 years of GW America still hasn't caught on that the word is "Nucular" not "Nuclear".

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  11. morrie

    Change the rules so something can get done. The GOP will not have enough votes to override a presidential Veto. It would be one thing if the GOP had reason for their obstruction but the fact is they don't and never did. They were just objecting because of who proposed or nominated someone. The GOP lied and said they would be more cooperative and then they carried on with their obstructive ways.

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  12. I'mma little teacup short and?

    "invoke nuclear options" what cowards!!! put your fist up and go toe to toe!!! (cowboy) what's wrong your rifles aren't good enough?

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  13. Peter

    here's an idea: completely outlaw the filibuster. It is a juvenile waste of time, and it needs to go. As in, totally removed from every facet of American politics. From now on, if you can't win a vote, you need to just suck it up and take the loss.

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  14. faircma

    Well this does go along with Obama fundamentally transforming our Country. We shouldn't be surprised by anything the left does.
    However, what goes around, comes around. I hang on that sentence every single day. I just pray this Country is able to survive when it comes back around.

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  15. billmelater1

    The Dem's and Reid are playing with fire. If they do this AND in 2014 the Republican take back the Senate the Dem's will pay a very high price for it.

    November 21, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  16. ShawnDH

    Obvious cried: "Go ahead and do it. The Republicans are going to take the Senate back next year anyway. THEN, we will see how smart you are."

    Uh-huh. Suuuuure you are. Just like you were going to in 2012 and how Mittens would crush Obama. HAHAHAHHAA.

    November 21, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. Harry Pelosi

    We should call Reid's bluff

    November 21, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  18. CB

    Okaynowhuh? – So the Democrats are two faced? Funny how the fact that Republicans wanted to do it then but don't want to allow it now is completely missed by you. They're not two-faced? They're not changing their mind when it benefits them? Don't sit all high and mighty as a republican, both parties are no good.

    November 21, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  19. Andrea Braboy

    God Bless Senator Harry Reid!

    November 21, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "Harry Reid needs to be killed. He is a traitor and is destroying this country. We need to take our country back. We are under attack by oyr own government and I would proudly die trying to stop it."

    Jesus CNN. Are your moderators asleep at the switch? You've got to be kidding me.

    November 21, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  21. Antilib

    Do it Harry. Once we get back in power we'll change all the rules to make sure we can never lose it. Why not, Obama doesn't follow any rules, he just does what he wants and his sheep follow. Look at Obamacare, they passed it without taking the time to look at it. It will be the dmeise of Big Govt. Liberals for at least my lifetime.

    November 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. ShawnDH

    JERRY O cried: "You call us republicans crazy and need only to look at your Senate Leaders to see crazy and radical..."

    Don't like democracy? Then LEAVE!

    November 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  23. Frank

    With respect to Senator Reid, this is not a one party system. I don't want to hear whining from the Democrats if the Republicans win a majority in the Senate and the ability to filibuster is scraped.

    November 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  24. PartyofHypocrisy

    What a joke this is. Democrats can't get their way so they want to fundamentally change how the senate works? I guess they have forgotten 8 years ago when they were in the minority and SET RECORDS for the amount of times filibusters were used to block Bush appointees. But of course with democrats its always okay if they do it, just never anyone else. How hilarious would this be if he actually goes through with it and then they dms the majority in the senate in 2 years. Repubs will be able to just appoint whoever they want at free will. This works both ways. It's idiotic to dismantle and get rid of one of the few things that prevent abuses of power by the majority.

    November 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  25. Kathy-AZ

    ------– EXCELLENT!! ----– Let's git er done.

    November 21, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108