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)

    Democracy just died today. Sad people screaming about party and they do not realize what they have just lost.

    November 21, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  2. gg

    Finally, the restoration of democracy. It's time to end the tyranny of the reactionary minority.

    November 21, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  3. thestraighttruth

    I love the move. The Dems will not "pay dearly" They will win new seats in 2014 because the Republicans shut down the government. Obamacare will stay. The rollout will make the repairs it needs to make....and Hillary will be the next president. The best part is, all you republican KNOW it is going to go down like this and all of your ignorant words and comments will do nothing to help stop the democratic direction the country is going. Stealing the two George W Bush wins ...will be the last thing you steal for at least the next 10 years.. Any party who puts people like Cruz, Bachman, and Palin in power...deservers NOT to be heard. Democrats. The party of the people. Not Republicans. The party of rich white people. If you are not rich but are a are dumber than you look.

    November 21, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  4. duke

    Dems love to change the facts and rules. At some point they will be the minority again and this will haunt them.

    November 21, 2013 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. tgbvt

    Oh my, the Democrats did what? Why, the Republicans have never done anything like that and, well, this is totally unfair. Grow up, people, both parties are guilty of this kind of crap – at least by blocking some moron's ability to filibuster, we allow some tasks to be completed.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  6. Ilya

    Looks like Reid is angling for 2016 race.
    Powering Democrats through the shutdown, while Obama wanted to fold.
    Changing rules to push through Obama's nominees.

    Seems like a Democrat if finally growing a spine.
    I approve.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  7. geno marcello

    Harry Reid has just destroyed the Democratic Party. He needs to resign and go back to Searchlight, NV. to help his family run the brothels they have financial interests in.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  8. Kyle

    As been mentioned, it's a good thing. But what they should have done was take the filibuster back to the original rules. None of this "I declare a filibuster" and then they break crap. Make them sit there. Much like the lady in Texas, they will have to be truly devoted to their cause to participate in such an act.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  9. MrScott

    Perhaps this is why the polls say that the Congress approval rating is at 10%?

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Time to impeach Obama for trying to seize control of the Congress and the judiciary, as a dictator.

    Also time to vote against every single Dem running, in the mid terms........IF we even get another free election, in this country!

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  11. Michele

    You can't blame any party for choosing the extreme option when everything ends in checkmate.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. The Flying Marsupial

    I have never been in favor of the filibuster rules and all I can say is good riddance. I do wonder, however, about the timing of the move. It is apparent that the move was for purely short term political gain and I wonder just when Mr Reid and the democrat party will rue the day the nuclear option was used.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  13. steven

    America is fed up with Republicans and Democrats. American's are fed up with the "dumbing down" of the country and the stalemate in Washington. America isn't about the Republicans nor Democrats, its about the people they represent and that of course has been long forgotten. The system needs to change, before the system is completely destroyed by the lack or will to work together for the COUNTRY.

    November 21, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  14. facistamerica

    It's about time something is done to combat this obstruction by radical right wing extremists. No place for this nonsense in the Democratic process. Obstructionists with no real agenda other than trying stop anything the president needs to do has to be undone. We are tired of these well paid exercises in futility by the radical extremists.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  15. langor1

    The pendulum swings back and forth in American politics, Democrats will be viewing from the pit soon enough and your cries will be unheard.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  16. tom

    The obstructionist Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  17. jharry

    Democratic hubris knows no bounds. They will regret this in about 15 months.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  18. Mark

    YAY!!!! Thank goodness!I'm so glad it was the Democrats who did this and not the Republicans!!! SO GLAD! OK....Sen Reid, things look good today...but when it turns to are to blame! Lay in your own bed then!

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  19. Malory Archer

    IMO, this "change" doesn't go far enough: it should be across the board. Or at least change the rules so the senator doing the filibustering is forced to stay on topic for the entire event instead of rambling like a bunch of 12 year-old girls given unlimited amounts of coca cola and told to talk about whatever enters their minds.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  20. BriHudson

    Time for the Democrats to quit pretending everyone is a Democrat. We're not. And we're at least half of America. For too many years, the likes of Obama, Reid and Clinton have behaved like "All" of America is on their side. We're not.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  21. Bill

    Stunns me why most past congresses have not considered the same in the past, a simple majority. Maybe everything should be voted on that way. The congress gets so little accomplished and over the past decades sucks for efficiency to keep our country on the move.Another ide I like is that things be voted on without them being part of a big pork belly project. For example voting on the federal government employees pay raise for 2014. The first thing I can recall them voting on that was not part of a bigger bill, was the ACA Bill in 2009. The Defence Bill should be by itself. The Social Programs should not be combined with social security. Lets get rid of Food Stamps, most people on it are taking advantage of that privilege. If you and/or your spouse did not work and pay into social security insurance, you should not be allowed to collect anything. There are many many minimum wage jobs for people to earn a living and not be in poverty.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  22. IpseCogita

    Do they get that the Senate changes hands from time to time, and that this rule wil apply to them when they are in the minority?

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. Deuce

    Calm down people. It doesn't get rid of the filibuster, except for lower court nominees. The GOP can still filibuster every piece of legislation brought to the floor of the Senate. And they no doubt will continue to do so because they have decided it is better to be the party of NO than to actually do their jobs of running the government.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  24. rosie

    None of this will help the Senate do anything quicker or make it any more efficient.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  25. lmc3

    This isn't democracy. It's more like dictatorship. This will come back to haunt the Democrats.

    November 21, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
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