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. cosmo

    Why do we even bother with a government

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  2. Miguel

    Say goodbye to Senate Democrats from red states....

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  3. Jerry

    Both parties are utter failures. The party system is a complete joke. People that vote "only for a party" are a complete joke.
    That goes for a good 99% of the comments out here. None of you are free thinkers.

    Whats wrong with this country? It isn't our leaders – it is the people that elected them. Our leaders grew up in OUR system. In OUR schools. In OUR social arrangements. We can't blame them for who we taught them to be.

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  4. JerryG1

    Good. The American people could no longer tolerate Washington's dysfunctional, tail-wagging-the-dog non-governance caused by the U.S. Senate's archaic filibuster rules.

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  5. Toni

    Why can't we get rid of these morons? We have become the laughing stock of the world, and for some reason, idiots keep voting for these people. I'm ready to change the rules on voting...don't own in land in the U.S.? You can't vote! Unless you have served your counrty. Seriously time to make some changes in Washington. For all you deadbeats out their who wanted free health care, and welfare, etc...hope you got the change you wanted!

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  6. McBob79

    The hypocrite is at it again. This is a smoke screen to take attention away from our economic woes and Obummer are. This president is a disaster.

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  7. pgraham52

    Why would the GOP want to block his nominees since the current ones are so competent and have served Americans so well. Hmm Selibus comes to mind.

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  8. JP

    I wonder how dems. are going to react when they are the Minority?

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  9. Chad

    You know what I do not understand? Why does the Democratic Party always fall back on the concept of the Republicans "obstructing". Don't get me wrong, I dislike how there is a lack of compromise in our government, but really here folks. This system is based on compromise. Both parties need to learn that.

    Democrats- Sorry to burst your bubble, but people will not always agree with you. You can not get mad when they have different oppinions and claim they are "a terrorist". Who says your opinion is right? Learn to compromise.

    Republicans- I understand you going to such bizare lengths to get your opinions heard, but you need to find the middle ground. The system is based on compromise. If you don't want to be shut out, you need to learn to get along, and find middle ground. Learn to compromise.

    To our entire government- I will simplify my message for you. We are Americans. Regardless of party, we are Americans. Stop choosing what is best for your party, or what will let your party have it's way. For God's sake Learn to Compromise.

    Your friendly servant,
    I now will retire from my soap box

    November 21, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  10. Bill

    Bad news for Conservatives and in the future for Liberals.

    But it is great news for Centrists and common sense independents
    who are sick of the wing nuts obstructing the majority rule.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  11. 4Truth

    There are no smaller men alive today than snarky little cheat Harry Reid and fraudulent president Obama.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  12. Reality

    The Dems defuse the suicide bombers vest and are instantly labeled terrorists?

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  13. Jason

    If I am not mistaken, this is how the senate used to function a long, long time ago. So basically we have changed it back to the way it should be.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  14. Mark Madsom

    No Surpise here.....

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  15. JLXvsElvis

    It's about time. the rethugs hate Obama so much that they will do ANYTHING legal or not to discredit him. There was never this much hate for bush. That's the whole truth.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  16. sammy750

    The voters need to fire/defeat the old senators they fight like school kids, not competent enough to run the senate like it should be When the Republicans continue to stop bills or nominations, it was time for change. Republicans have had a agenda since 2008, to block all of Obama bills and nominations. Republicans are the true Terrorist of this nation. We really see it with Boehner and the House. They have done nothing. Boehner agenda is to do nothing.

    Today we see a few Democrats voting against Obama, they need to be defeated next time they come up for election. A few Democrats are as Senile and radical as the Tea party. So vote smart in 2014.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  17. Data Driven

    @GT Simpson,

    "The Democrats are exposing themselves as "tyrants and dictators" and not representatives of the people."

    51 Senators, voted into office in a directly democratic way in a general election, constituting a majority in the Senate, can advise and consent to the President's appointment choices to the court and Executive posts - all as the Constitution prescribes. It should also be noted that these Senators can be voted out of office, unlike "tyrants and dictators".

    So, let's review:

    1) directly elected Senators are not tyrants and dictators
    2) they ARE representatives of the people - the people voted directly for them
    3) You're WRONG

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  18. S.L.C.

    The filibuster is a bizarre practice and should be done away with in ALL cases.

    A lot of posts talk of "power grab", "nazi", etc. Why is there so much outrage over majority rule?

    At the very least, if you want to keep it, you should have to stay on the floor and debate, not just say "filibuster". This used to be the case.

    November 21, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  19. Amit Singh

    I'm glad the mockery that the republican party made of both the house and the senate with filibuster has now had its equal and opposite reaction. The GOP republican party is being eaten alive by its parasitic host, the tea party.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  20. Scott

    @ data driven,

    That's the point. Your outlook/argument is exactly what's WRONG with both parties. And it shows why partisanship politics actually runs much deeper on the left. The right has some extremists that everyone loves to cite, but they're very much in the minority. But your outlook of "just win and you get to do whatever you want" runs rampant on the left. It's why Romney was able to succeed as governor of a blue state. Anyone who thinks 51% of any vote entitles them to 100% of the power is exactly why the country doesn't work. Thanks for proving that point.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  21. kenzo

    Repugs are reaping what they sowed.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  22. hitman

    America the ugly!

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  23. Moon mars

    It's outrageous move by Harry Reid. Filibuster tool helped the launch of presidential Campaign of Sen. Paul and Sen. Cruz. Now the other Senators don't have the option.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. DirtyHeat

    "Go ahead Reid do it. Republicans would easily do it. They think they own America. Look at all the nasty things they are doing they don't care about ordinary people. All they care is their party. If we allow these people to become President, we are doomed. The Kohl and the rich men will dictate for America and make more money. America wake up."

    It would appear that you have been sleeping for the last 5-10 years. First of all Republicans did threaten this under Bush, but never actually did it. Secondly do you think Obama cares about ordinary people? You are kidding yourself if you think the answer is yes. If he did, he would have made sure that 5 million people didn't lose their insurance because of his policy and he would have made sure that the ACA website actually worked before rolling it out to the public. Oh and here is a dirty little secret no liberals want to talk about. The stock market is at record highs under Obama. You know who benefits from that and makes a lot of money from the stock market? RICH PEOPLE! Rich people are thriving under Obama and the gap between the middle class and the top 10% is growing.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  25. Jack 2

    Can't stand Ried. He looks like a mortician but his liberal arrogance and ignorance turns me off.

    November 21, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
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