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. silencedogoodreturns

    remember just a few years ago when Reid was furious over any attempt at a nuclear option because it didn't protect the rights of the minority? What a two-faced hypocrite this beast is.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |

    OMG Is this even legal? Obviously not moral. And to hear the POTUS go against what he "knew to be right before" he became POTUS. This guy, and all his minions (dems), has got to leave the WH. He is a liar and he cares NOTHING about the people in these United States.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  3. Mark

    Outstanding, all so he can have power to appoint idiots like Kathy Sebelius. Great, his track record for hiring is just wonderful. The blind continues to lead the blind in this case. More people to screw things up, and help cover his ass when the mistakes are made. He will continue to play stupid, and the retarded public that voted for him will continue to believe in him.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  4. larry

    Just another step closer to the complete dictatorship.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  5. TJ

    The winds of war are blowing folks... gently, but blowing nonetheless.

    Liberals would be wise to find their holes to crawl back into before the majority of those 330,000,000 privately owned firearms become focused on them.

    November 21, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. larsfox

    Here's a thought- If the Senate Dems are voted out in 2014, with a Rep majority coming, the Dems can use their lame-duck session to reinstate the super-majority filibuster rule. It would then be up to the Reps to once again dismantle this rule. Just a thought...

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  7. Wow

    The Dems will be on the wrong side of history on this one. They are so ignorant to think they will always be the majority in the Senate.

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  8. I See Your True Face

    obama and other liberals would agree, because the others are the low educated shepole who follow the dictator, but there are more of us than you, haha, it is time and your time is coming, hahaha

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. ren

    so the shut down was another false flag for this rule...its disgusting.

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  10. PhillyPhil

    If only they would drop this "nuclear option" on themselves!

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  11. JiminNM

    We will all kneel before Jesus Christ, confess that he is Lord and be judged with righteous judgement. His judgement of Reid will have to be sufficient as the legal system is corrupt beyond any possible imagination.

    November 21, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  12. Thinker

    Well House GOP, in the next couple of months you need to shut down the second-term anti-christ's government. No rise in debt ceiling, no Sequester change, and stick by your guns to get a budget that protects the American people!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  13. Scott

    Yes... they are a little late with this. With the growing possibility that the GOP could reclaim the senate in 2014... Democrats are dropping the bomb on themselves.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  14. Grand Obstructionist Party

    The GOP brought this about. It's a long time coming. If they can't be counted on to be a reasonable minority party, they don't deserve the powers they've been abusing.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  15. john

    .This rule change will allow the President of the U.S. to recommend the appointment of candidates he submits for his cabinet, related undersecretaries and non-supreme court jurists. No more cries of "Benghazi!" or "Obamacare!" after each nomination, just a straight up/down vote on the merits of the nominee. I say, ABOUT TIME! Each President, regardless of party, should be able to put forth individuals they believe will help accomplish their agenda and who will assist that President in governing effectively. The Senate has a duty to investigate each nominee and should vote yea or nay depending upon that person’s qualifications and abilities, not simply deny a vote because of purely ideological differences. I think this change will benefit this country in both the near and long terms. Bravo!

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  16. dwp19542004

    I would rather shoot a liberal before voteing for one

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  17. Rosemary

    Yep, wait till you see the crying foul that goes on when the Republicans are back in power, and THEY do this. Remember, Dems, what goes around comes around.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  18. Independent

    The Republicans brought all this on themselves with their extreme negativity. Time to get something done after all why are we paying them big bucks if they can't get anything done? Mitch McConnell is actually the one to blame, Mr. No.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  19. KeninTexas

    The Democrats in the Senate just got played fools. They don't realize that Obama is going to be gone in 2016 and all he wants is to get his agenda done before he leaves. But he threw all of these Senators under the bus, because if they might get re-elected, they will then have to deal with the inevitable Republican take over of congress, which only needs the 51 votes now. Todays' Dems got played the fool by not the Republicans, but by their own leadership.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  20. Drano

    About time. The filibuster only makes sense when both parties are interested in governing, not one party simply interested in nullifying an election using the filibuster as a means to do so.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  21. swatguy

    What Reid and Obama call obstructions in the filibuster debate are known to the rest of America as checks and balances....and with this administration, those checks and balances are the thin margin saving this country.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  22. smg

    The Dems have been treating the GOP with kid gloves, showing them respect the whole way - and they call us a mongol horde... So what are they gonna do if we adopt their tactics and give them the mongol horde treatment? call us a mongol horde? F'em.

    November 21, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  23. mark hensley

    Awesome. The republicans have been obstructionists for too long.

    November 21, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  24. unc dig

    Obama and the Dems are tearing down Ameica's successful legislature process brick by brick.

    November 21, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  25. Mark


    It's about time ! What's Congress's approvel rating ? They've only proven that they're in Washington to serve themselves and wealthy elitists. This president was elected by over 5 million votes. He ran on a set of issues that the MAJORITY of our country wanted. The opposing party has fillerbuster over 400 times, (a record by far.). They SHUT DOWN our government. And now they crying foul when Reid finially decided enough is enough. Give me a break already.


    November 21, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
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