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. Really?

    When Republicans become the majority again, this will come back to bite them. Dems are complete morons and hypocrites b/c they argued against this when they were in the minority before. This country is become more like a dictatorship. Time to vote Dems out! They are ruining this country

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  2. Mobius Strip

    Can't wait to hear the Democrats complain about this when they are no longer in the majority.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  3. tbroach

    Democrats....Republicans....God, please help us! They are BOTH a broken record.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  4. js_biggs

    Typical of the fascism that infest the Democrat party.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "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."
    Where's a MODERATOR when you need one?
    Well, let's just home that Homeland Security and the Secret Service haven't gotten as careless.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Drake

    A Tea Party supported Republican congressman busted for cocaine. Yeah, you teabillies really are going to change the political landscape!
    If Republicans want to take back the White House you should quit being the party of NO and tell the Tea Party to take their extreme policies to Iran or Afghanistan.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. ABarker

    Just wait until we win it back, and we will. No squawking children – remember, you started it.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Thank God. President Obama has been doing all the heavy lifting and it's about time Democrats helped. Screw the GOP and their teabaggers who have used the filibuster for their own personal notarity that being Ted Cruz for one.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  9. BriHudson

    Since 1975, the Democrats have used the filibuster more times than Republicans have. Got that, Democrats? Can hide from a stat like that, can you?

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  10. floyd from illinois

    Five years overdue, if not two hundred.

    November 21, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  11. Malainie

    In the past, the filibuster was used sparingly. That changed when the GOP discovered the power of invoking the filibuster for NO reason. While this is called the 'nuclear option', it's really just putting the Senate back to where it had been for 200 years with a simple majority vote.

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  12. Col B

    Remember the GOLDEN RULE....he who has the gold RULES! Welcome to the United Socialist States of America!

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  13. Arun

    I'd rather have Harry Reid represent me than Mitch or the repubes. All you democratic bashers, what exactly has your party done for you the last 5 years?? Oh yeah, repleal ACA and get rid of abortion rights!!! Where are the jobs the repubes have been promising?? At least the dems have tried to pass jobs bills, what exactly have the repubes offered. What is there offer for replacing the ACA, nothing!! If you right wing lovers want to keep supporting a party that hasn't done anything, then don't complain about the roads you drive on, your ss checks when ever you get that age or any other help from the government!!

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  14. Phillyfarmer

    Very telling move by the dems. I look forward to seeing them squirm and cry foul when they are in the minority, which may be sooner than later, especially when they run on the collapsed obamacare platform.

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  15. George

    It can't be used in the future against Dens because the Repubs can't win the Senate majority anymore. They can only win in the South and a bit of the midwest. The House has been redistricted so that the Repubs can win the majority there, but the Repubs will never win a national or most state wide elections again.

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  16. Perry

    The democRAT party is totally corrupted. Most Americans have no faith in this corrupted party

    November 21, 2013 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  17. I AM

    You can thank Lindsay Graham of South Carolina for this.

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  18. Joe

    this is why political parties in general suck... I mean, i'm generally pretty liberal, but this is a very bad precedent to set and thwarts democracy, debate is a good thing and is sadly dying from the american system

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  19. Bill

    A great day for true majority rule, not games and obstruction.

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  20. cedar rapids

    'In 2005, the then majority Republicans threatened the nuclear option to prevent Democratic filibusters of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.'

    and the only thing that stopped them that time was a bipartisan response.....this time they cant even get a bipartisan fix because they want to block nominations, period.

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  21. tbroach

    Democrats....Republicans....God, please help us. They both sound like a broken record.

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  22. Greg

    "Everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse,"
    Barack Obama

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  23. ToughLove

    This will go down as the most corrupt, deceitful, dictatorial era in American politics because of the President's double-speak that has left our nation's trust in his Office in tatters and the Dems in the Senate's historical bullying.
    Truly, President Obama has kept ONE promise at least. He has fundamentally changed America...and we will be picking up the pieces for a long time.

    November 21, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  24. Gprez

    Well let's see how much the Dems like the rule change when the Repulblicans are in the majority soon!

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  25. e embry

    thank you Harry about time, so glad to see the Dems grow a spine. Made my day!

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
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