November 21st, 2013
09:17 AM ET
8 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. bob

    i cannot believe the lib morons popping off with "Republican obstructionism"!!??!!
    was it not just a few weeks ago that obama in his typical arrogant manner stated that he would not negotiate with the republican plan if it didnt cover obamacare????? HA! funny thing is he didnt negotiate and now he's eating it. HA! now the whole point of this act (that the weasel harry himself fought not too long ago) it to NOT HAVE TO NEGOTIATE.
    Government is all about give and take. the democrats cry "obstructionism" when they dont get 100% of what they want even when historically their plans FAIL. but by all means you lib kool-aid stooges keep on with your rhetoric.

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

    All you Libs forget that this is exactly what you did under Bush when Republicans had control. How soon you forget and not fun when it happens to you huh?

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  3. wheelcat2005

    This seems to me to be a no-brainer. If you have 100 people voting on something, 51 votes wins. Why should it be any different in Congress?

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  4. Really?

    Dee – Finally! Now let's move forward and help the President succeed! ..... in driving that final nail in America's coffin.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  5. Dorothy

    Get rid of filibuster. It's not even in the constitution. It's been misused by both parties for so long it's pathetic.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  6. Concern for US

    Badua, well spoken! Its all the republicans fault. That is absolutely absurd. Why don't we figure it out that it is not the republicans or democrats; it is both. We have a problem with government and we need to use our votes to make a change. Keep putting in the same people, election after election and hope for a change is borderline lunacy. This act is short sided because it takes away the opportunity of the minority party to force discussions and change. It is time to vote the bums out of office.

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  7. Thaddeus

    Finally a law that makes the most sense. The Republicans have abused the filler-buster rule, and succeeded in holding back recovery efforts.

    "These are the architects of obstruction and now they’re complaining about the pace of the recovery," Axelrod said about the republicans on CBS's "Face the Nation." "They should put down their political hats and join us and help solve these problems."

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  8. Travis

    Once Senator Obama voted against this just before his presidency and called it a "power grab" but now he supports it? Is this guy serious?

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  9. Chuck

    What do the Democrats want? a Civil War?

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  10. KC

    "They are governed by these hard over, newer members of Democratic senators who have never been a minority, who are primarily driving this issue and they succeeded and they will pay a very, very heavy price for it." Really McCain??? Like your party is ruled over by the tea party???

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  11. Eeyore

    Then BO gets up to talk and doesn't take any questions. The Master has spoken! If this would have happened under Bush what would have happened. Geez!

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  12. Sean T

    Reid is a douch e bag and the farce of the left is being exposed

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. John Purple

    Well, this will surely lead to bipartisanship. Let it now be written into history, democrats changed the rules.

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  14. Darla44

    “The threat to change Senate rules is a raw abuse of power and will destroy the very checks and balances our founding fathers put in place to prevent absolute power by any one branch of government.” -Harry Reid April, 2005

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  15. A True Conservative

    @badua – the Republicans had the opportunity to do it and threatened it – but they didn't push the button. The ignorance of the left is stunning!

    @Dee – succeed at what? Turning this country into a banana republic? We are wel on our way thanks to his "leadership".

    No Jay, the Republicans were using it the way Dems did a few years ago – the lesson is Republicans are expected to play nice – while Democrats, once again, prove that they are arrogant bullies......but now the button has been pushed....enjoy it in a couple of years dems.....don't come crying when it works against you.....

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. capiers

    This is a good thing for both sides.. Yes the tables could turn and the Dems be the minority but in the end bills should be passed based on their merit not party affiliation or lobbyist/special interest groups.

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  17. Really?

    I guess the fact that Obama cannot appoint any more incompetent people like Holder, Sebelius, Kerry, Duncan, Clapper etc is the real reason why this country is so messed up.

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  18. Uniquitous

    If I was a lifetime appointee to any position, I would be looking at retirement very soon. If you do not meet their needs, your disappearance will provide them the opportunity to get someone that is "more willing to work with them". If EVERYTHING can get passed by a simple majority, the rights of the individual become null and void and govt no longer represents the will of all the people. Voices of the citizens will be trampled by this.

    November 21, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  19. Raj

    Well done Dems. After all the GOPers Nay sayers, you have shown some balls to get it done. Even if some FOX news followers say when GOP has majority this will fall in dems face. My answer is no. Then GOPers can have their nominees but at least Senate will be working. I am frustrated to see GOPErs nay sayers just block everything president wants to do. GOP has become amazing party of NO.

    November 21, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  20. Iamnotfooled

    Good. Republicans act like kids out of control.

    November 21, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  21. Firstname Lastname

    COWARDS! TRAITORS! This will not be forgotten!

    November 21, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  22. Chris

    It's a shame that things have got so bad. The basic problem for the GOP is that if they are seen to work with the Democrats, then the Tea Party will put up an opponent in a Primary.

    This is a bad move for the Senate and for the country.

    November 21, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  23. Harry101


    Finally! Now let's move forward and help the President succeed!
    I agree and will agree when a GOP President is in office will you?

    November 21, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  24. buccakenji

    Prepare !! Change is in the offing and it won't be pretty.

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

    "Nuclear" + "Bomb" in the link to the article. Come on C N N, you are really trying to dramatize the issue and get more clicks from users who are confused about the usage of "nuclear" in this context!

    November 21, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
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