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. fr114

    the GOP is the problem with Washington and every state. Their ONLY goal is to get the rich richer and by all means, including but not limited to: messages of hate, lies & insults, manufactured fear, scandal & crisis, gerrymandering, voter suppression.

    The Dems are no angles, but the GOP is really bad in all actions and goals

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. Jonathan

    Its a dark day when we lose majority rule, minority rights. Harry Reid is personally undoing the US Senate by changing the rules as a minority. He won't even follow the rules to change the rules. The "Nuclear" option is actually the dangerous, illicit, and ground shaking. If the push for this continues Reid should be removed from office. One of my teachers from high school used to talk about particualr individuals being "educated beyond intelligence", thank you for defining this for me Reid.

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  3. DaveinJersey

    I just saw that some drone stated that 'Obama won the election twice by overwhelming majorities". The popular vote was closer in this last election than his first. Approx 1 million votes (more than likely by illegal immigrants) well within the margin of sampling error. This was hardly a mandate. But nonetheless, these rules will render the Democrats obsolete in 2014 when the Senate is owned and run by Americans.. We will remove all dems from Senate and they will be crying ... Just 11 more months..

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  4. WakeUpPlze

    This country is broken. The Senate and House are broken. Any Democrat and Republican voter who does not see this should have their head examined. It is TIME to get these career politicians that DONT CARE ABOUT ANY OF US out of office in the next elections. Some say voting is a privilege. I say its our responsibility. Folks, Obamacare is a disaster for everyone in this country...and it will be more clear as time goes on. The Republicans standing their ground for their reasons is another problem. You will see, in most cases (if you read between the lines)...the Senators and Representatives that are newer to Washington are the ones that WANT change. They are the ones that are opening up their mouths, but being silenced by the Reid's, Pilosi's, Boehner's and Canter's. Why? They have everything to lose and nothing to gain when they have been in Congress as long as they have been. We, not the Senate or House of Reps, need to make the change in Washington. They have been given their opportunity over and over again. They fail miserably every time. It is time WE stand up and say enough is enough...and do it by voting!

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  5. Susan StoHelit

    About fracking time!!!!!

    This has been ridiculously abused for a long time. Now, it doesn't help that the fillibuster rules mean that you no longer have to fillibuster – merely say you might do so, and the bill is blocked – but really, it's ridiculous. A filibuster should be for a RARE and extreme moment, not your day to day way of doing business.

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  6. Ryan

    For everyone that keep saying we want the government to work. Well, it is not ever going to work right until we scale it back and make it more manageable! So yeah, implementing more socialists ideals and removing a system of "checks and balances" to appoint more socialist ideologues is not going to make the government work better!

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  7. KaPueo

    Since the Senate never votes on anything anyway, what difference does it make?

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  8. Carrick

    I see the lunatics are still running the asylum in Washington.

    "May you get what you wish for," an old Chinese curse, comes to mind.

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  9. alan

    The problem with what the democrats are doing is they have opened the way for the republicans come next election cycle. I happen to be a republican but I dont want the one party rule liberals seem to love. Like most americans, I am middle of the road. God knows the can of muck the dems just opened.

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. Data Driven


    "dem = hypocrisy

    wait till the reps are the majority"

    Well, diddly-dum-doodly, go win the Senate in 2014 and the Presidency in 2016 and enjoy the GOPhers as they exercise the white-hot, absolute power of appointing judges to federal courts.

    /hot hot power

    (Gotta win first, though)

    November 21, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  11. rob

    Omg.. When the dems are not in power, their plans fail. When they are in power, their plans fail MISERABLY! In both cases they blame republicans. Then their solution is to follow their nazi playbook and grab more power. WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO LEARN THAT BAD PLANS FAIL? Its got nothing to do the ability to deploy it!!!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  12. E

    Something hitler would of done

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Deuce

    Calling this the "Nuclear Option" is misleading. It's more like the "Cruise Missile Option". The true nuclear option is dumping the filibuster altogether. Making them actually get up and talk in order to sustain a filibuster would be more effective than this move. Neither Rand Paul nor Ted Cruz lasted more than 24 hours before they gave up.

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  14. Hakka

    The Republicans have been daring Reid to do this from Day One. Whenever he found ways to avoid it, they simply upped the ante, HOPING he would do it, so they could then gleefully scream overwrought nonsense about tyranny. It is past time Reid finally dropped the hammer on these anti-American GOP thugs and got government functioning again.

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  15. Super progressive

    Best news of the day. The republicans are hell bent on destroying Obamas legacy. We will make sure this does not happen. No more republican presidents. Ever.

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  16. Heywood

    We can't get everything we want so we'll change the rules so we can. Wghat kind of BS politicing is this? Just you wait libs, this is goig to come back and bite you in the ASS real hard after the 2014 elections.

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  17. colinc

    This is so short-sighted. Do the Dems believe they will always have a majority in the Senate? I guarantee they'll be complaining about this when the Reps are in control of the Senate again and they can't filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  18. G. T. Simpson

    Just another example of a naked power grab by Harry Reid and other power hungry Democrats. This change in the filibuster rules was based on lies created by the Democrats – the Democrats don't wants discussion or compromise – they "want it their way – all the time" – no dissent, no discussion – all they want to do is hold America hostage. This is the same way they rammed Obama care down the throats of the American people even though they did not want it.
    The Democrats are exposing themselves as "tyrants and dictators" and not representatives of the people. They are in fact, becoming "min- Obama's" as Obama's dictatorial nature has now infected the Senate. God help us as we have 3 years left with the radical far-left Socialist/Marxist as POTUS. He is a disgrace and the Democrats are a disgrace for backing him up! I hope the American voters put an end to their agenda of fundamentally changing America into a 3ed. world country.

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  19. DaveinJersey

    Hey Democrats.. great job with ObamaCare... Total victory.. LOL what a bunch of losers. Obama;'s signature achievement is a comlpete and utter failure.. This very law that the cry baby democrats passed will come back to haunt them in 2014 when there is a REPUBLIVAN majority in the Senate.. There are no ifsd ands or buts about it.. Thank you Dems for your shortsighted-ness once again..

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  20. timmy hordan

    Hate all politicians, Reid is in the top 5.

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  21. Jolat

    This is nothing but a raw power grab designed to weaken the minority. Another fine example of progressives destroying our republic.

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  22. Jon

    For the first time in my adult life, I am ashamed of my country because it feels like all hope is lost.

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  23. Stu

    What is next for the Obama?Reid coup postpone the 2014 elections?

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  24. Alina1

    Too little too late...

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  25. liberals love nukes now?

    so let me understand – last time we had the dems ram stuff down our throat – we got obamacare and all it's failures... so now they want to go all NUKE on us and ram more stuff down our throat?

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
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