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. Mike

    As an independent I support them minority role, which ever party, and will hold the Dem's accountable with my vote

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  2. Mak

    The new distraction from ObamaCare. They are running out of options!

    November 21, 2013 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  3. unc dig

    Reid, the dems and the president apparently forgot how to negotiate. It's always been Obama's way or the highway and now that it has bit him on the proverbial rear, Reid comes riding to his rescue with the nuclear option. I can hardly wait to hear them spin this later on when they don't have the majority and are crying about being picked on by the rule they pass. Going to be fun!

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  4. Moonraker

    Good for the Democrats! The GOP has no one to blame but themselves. If they stopped acting like children (yes we have an African American president, deal with it!) this never would have happened.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  5. cscd1111

    This is nothing but a democrat attempt to bring attention away from the ACA americans will see right through this situation.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  6. Stephen

    Libretards do only what they need when the laws or rules of the land do not satisfy their agenda. Reid is an affluent well educated idiot.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  7. Does it matter

    Everyone thinks the Repubs are destroying everything with a filibuster. But if all else fails because Reid won't let anything not advancing the causes of the Democratic party even get to be voted on, then what is the Repubs option?

    This is no longer a Republic, it is an Oligarchy. And the ruling class all have (D) next to their names.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  8. Anthony

    its funny that they, republicans, want to allow one person to hold up or stop a nomination by talking for an extreme amount of time. Then if you have a majority vote, 51 to 49 you still have to get 60 people to approve it. so in retrospect one person can kill a bill but it takes two thirds, not a majority to pass it. Seems like the democrats got it right.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  9. Matt

    It's about time. Based on the way the Republicans have been behaving, this was the only option. I would imagine this will give the Democrats an even bigger lead in the polls for finally sticking up for themselves instead of letting the minority bully them around.

    Personally I think maybe they should find a way to allow filibustering in limited situations – a way of rationing it. I don't know how it would work but maybe someone could find a way to allow a filibuster 2 times a year. This would be like how the NFL lets coaches throw a red flag when they dispute a call on the field. By giving the coaches a limit, they have to be careful about when they use it. If they were given unlimited chances to challenge a call then we would see a red flag on every play. Up until the Democrats finally stoop up for themselves with the nuclear option, the Republicans were calling a red flag on every single play.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  10. Cunfuzed

    There is another angle to Reid's move: now a few Dems in jeopardy of losing their seats can vote with Repubs, thereby appearing to be moderates, yet the Dems can still pass legislation and nominees with a simple majority.

    The nuclear option is a bad move regardless. The Dems will not hold a majority forever.

    November 21, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  11. zappo15

    Bye bye extremists

    November 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  12. Paul

    Business can not get done. It is time for majority rule. It does not matter who is in control. This is a good thing. Congress is at about 8% approval. This will allow buisness to get done.

    November 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "The filibuster, a 60 vote hurdle, was one of the biggest weapons in the minority's arsenal.

    Yeah, and while CNN is busy blowing it all out of proportion, calling this limited filibuster rules change that applies only to judicial nominees (but not SCOTUS) "nuclear," the GOP/Teatrolls had been engaged in a Dresden-style carpet bombing abuse of the filibuster. CNN will now proceed to ignore and fail to cite any of the facts and data that show just how exponentially worse the GOP/Teatrolls' abuse of the filibuster and other obstructionist tactics were compared to ANY minority party under ANY President in the country's history. ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE WORSE. And CNN will carefully avoid reporting on it in a factual manner because it so damages the nontroversy.

    November 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  14. G_Rock

    Gotta love unchecked power.

    November 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  15. G

    Good move Harry Reid. Now you can get some work done. For you Repubes who think for one moment you'll get to enjoy the nuclear option anytime soon. ....bahahahaha!!!!!! Dumbasses

    November 21, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  16. nwcommenter

    People deserve due process, and they are denied this by not having judicial vacancies filled. Period.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  17. Jeff Johnson

    Most people on here do not seem to understand how politics works. It is very sad that the filibuster option has been removed. Politics has never ever been about getting a simple majority. The filibuster forces one side to give up a little in order to get what they want. This is why the nominations are held up on unrelated things. The Democrats in the Senate are unwilling to play the political game which requires them to give up something to get something else passed. Without the filibuster, a minority becomes pointless and might as well not even show up to the debate.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  18. 4Trugh

    The rule change only applies when dems are in the majority LOL.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  19. neutrality77

    I don't know about you, but isn't this how Socialism starts? Muting the competition? Of course, there will be plenty who support this monstrosity.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  20. emilie56

    It is time to throw all our Senators out and a get a new bunch. The garbage man would be a better candidate than what we now have in both our parties. I feel we are soon to be on the brink of a new civil war at the rate we are going. Democracy is being killed.

    Do they not realize that when the Republicans are in power they will do the same to the Democrats?

    And if we can bend our rules as we are now doing, we can also bend the idea of lifetime appointments once the Republicans get control. We can do anything we want to do depending on what bunch of dictators we get in future. Sorry, since they are acting like dictators I will call them dictators. The same goes for the Republican senator who threatened to veto anything Mr. Obama seeks. These are personal wars between these people and they all affect us and our representatives represent only themselves and their respective parties. I am ashamed of all of them. I am ashamed that the country I was brought up to believe was the greatest in the world has so devolved.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  21. PKK

    In a few years all of those who support Reid's efforts will complain when some GOP Senator does the same, and they will.

    I agree with the prior post. Career politicians, no matter their party affiliation, need to be termed out and future members of Congress term limited.

    The evidence is hard to interpret any way other than our elected officials are conflicted and incompetent at worst, ineffective at best. Either way they fail the American public.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  22. Caro

    Don't let Reid and the Democrats change the subject: KEEP FOCUS ON THE OBAMACARE DEBACLE.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  23. Alley

    Good day in america

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  24. Terry B

    This was the only way to stop the constant obstruction by the GOP. They could never explain their reasons for being such horrible politicians. They don't like the president. Not a very good reason for being so delinquent in doing their job. They are just giving the citizens more reason to vote these uncaring politicians out of office.

    November 21, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  25. bilk7

    This should have been done years ago! 60 votes may have worked in the past when members of both parties worked together for the good of the country. Now it's all political and the GOP has obstructed the President on every issue. At least now we can get the senate working again and they'll be forced to do the job they were elected to and vote on the nominees and issues. Let's see what we can do about the House.

    November 21, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
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