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. Doc

    Yes. When tables turn, My Democraptic Hypocrite, you'll rue this day!!

    November 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  2. Steve 22

    I assume the democrats already know that this works both ways

    November 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  3. tullymd

    About time

    November 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  4. Fish

    Who cares!!! Congress is all solely owned by Wall Street we only pretend to elect them. Our last great half-white hope has sold us out to Wall Street when we asked him to regulate Wall Street. Presidents don't give people the finger they force them to buy health insurance. Even Bill Clinton looked upset yesterday because he knew Obama has sold out and extended the war!!!

    November 21, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  5. SeanZ

    Headline ....... Obama Supports............ and so does Candy Crowley, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo.... CNN the Obama Network.

    November 21, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  6. salc

    Reading some of the comments from supporters of this action just reinforces to me that you can't underestimate the stupidity of the American public. I guess it's ok to change rules when you don't like them in this administration: using reconciliation to pass Obamacare, changing Obamacare when its convenient for the President, changing immigration with executive order and now changing the rules in the Senate. Wow.

    November 21, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  7. Ctrygrl

    "They are governed by these hard over, newer members of Democratic senators .." Sound familiar, replace Senate with house and democrat with republican. However this is wrong, they could have accomplished much the same thing by changing the rule to enforce more than the threat to the actual thing. Make them get up and talk for however long they can sustain it. No single senator should be able to block a nominee like now and done anonymously. You don't want a nominee have the guts to get up and say why not skulk in the shadows. One day the democrats will regret this mightily.

    November 21, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  8. Doc

    Obama... Liar AND Hypocrite!

    November 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  9. Brad

    I am neither Dem or Rep, but I agree with this move, it should have been done back during the G.W. Bush's term. Washington has become a place of inactivity due to whichever party is in the minority, this is just plain wrong. It seems the only time the left and the right came pass anything is when it effects themselves and their donors.

    November 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  10. Ralph

    Number of Senate filibusters on Executive Nominees:

    Eisenhower – 0
    Kennedy – 0
    Johnson – 0
    Nixon – 0
    Ford- 0
    Carter – 2
    Reagan – 2
    Bush – 0
    Clinton – 9
    Bush – 7
    Obama – 27 (to date, with more expected)

    November 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. BlackOp

    You dropped the bomb on me, baby. You dropped the bomb on me!

    November 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  12. Hunter

    Please don't use "Senate" "Nuclear" and "Bomb" in the same headline unless you mean it.

    November 21, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |

    Ask your self this why Reid did this? This calling the Republican obstructionist? The president has had 1,540 of his nominations confirmed, only four defeated and 38 dropped out (so in total about 2.7% did not make it) what does he expect 100% should pass thru?

    November 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  14. Bob

    Michelle Malkin for PRESIDENT.

    November 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. Lance

    "I urge my Republican colleagues not to go through with changing these rules. 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," he said on the Senate floor at the time."

    That says it all. Reid has no principles whatsoever.

    November 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  16. bspurloc

    aka back to how it was before bush.

    November 21, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  17. ghostwriter

    It's only for some appointments. Be easy, conservatives. You can still obstruct everything else.

    November 21, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  18. CaliforniaAC

    Well done, dems. Now the Tea-turds cannot wag the dog anymore.

    November 21, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  19. Swami

    In the 230 year history of this great country of ours, which grew from meager beginnings to super power, only twice has a democrat succeeded a democrat president via election, and it hasn't happened in over 100 years. Think about that as Obama drives this country further into the ground.

    November 21, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  20. bluesjordan

    Anything at all to take attention away from Obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. Vegas Smitty

    So much for a govt for the people!

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  22. jenn, philadelphia

    Let's see, as a Senator, Barack Obama was against raising the debt ceiling (it's a disservice to our grandchildren) and against removing the filibuster (it goes against what the Forefathers wanted) but now as President, he's in favor of both? I'm so glad he was elected to "change" Washington. Imagine what it would be like if we had elected the same-old kind of politician.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    next he will do away with term limits and apoint himself dictator. don't laugh....its coming. doh!

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  24. t2vodka

    I completly agree with this. The majority should have the majority of power. If we don't like that, elect them out.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  25. Dadster

    I hated to see them do this, but this is what must be done when your dealing with Tea Party 2 year olds whose mommy wouldn't buy them the candy bar at the checkout lane back in November.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
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