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. Arun

    Hey Abbey, talk to me in a year, 5 years, and 10 years.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  2. BiteMe

    "Do as I say, not as I do." We have to get these power hungry nuts out of there, starting with their POTUS.

    November 21, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  3. Henry Knouse

    The filibuster has always been used by a handful of obstructionist to block government. Both parties have used this trick to block legislation when they didn't have the votes to pass it. It is time for the filibuster to become history and forgotten

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  4. tom l

    "You need to step out of that medicine cabinet you're living in.
    They've been there and done that.
    The reason why the US Senate is firing it's ICM is in order to defend themselves from the GOPeeing Tearrorists they've been battling for the past 5 years.
    Live free or die I say!
    Keep your finger on the button Harry!"

    You sound like a 10 year old in school. Really. A grown woman speaks like this? And you have the audacity to call republicans children? Do me a favor and read what you wrote. Comprehend it. You should be embarrassed and what an absolute child you are. I'm shocked you didn't finish your quote with Nannna Nannna Naaana Naaana!

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  5. Shills

    See folks? Both parties are 'transparent' now. Both are the same. Not leadership that's in the best interest of the many people but always for the few. Democrats and Republicans are the same folks, and they are not our 'friends' but are lawyers.

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  6. are122

    "It's time to get the Senate working again," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said <~~LOL, he's probably never worked a day in his life. ....and Nevada still retains the Number 1 spot for highest unemployment in the country.

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  7. BKB

    History will show this was the breaking point for America.

    Nothing but a attention diversion from the Obamacare failure, but with horrific consequences.

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  8. VJ

    Harry Reid is doing remarkable job since Ocotober 1st.. Dems blocked nomination when Bush was president, their days were less when compared with Obama's term. Obama"s term = Minimum waiting time starts from 100 days to 3 yrs... more than 500 filibusters so far.

    There is a rule 'when u beg a person, he wont do anything, when u refuse to the person, he will listen and do the right thing' that is what harry Reid did to republicans... This is my take in it.

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  9. bear

    The Washington Post gave Obama 2 pinocchios on the claim that his nominees have been obstucted more than others.

    From the Washington Post Article:

    "Let’s see what happens when we look at the time it took judges to go from nomination to confirmation. CRS shows that it took an average of 178.8 days for Bush’s district court judges, compared to 221.6 days for Obama’s nominees. For appeals court nominees, the results are an average of 350.6 days for Bush and 256.9 days for Obama.
    Wheeler’s statistics are slightly different. He shows Bush’s district judges took 164 days, compared to 224 for Obama. For the appeals judges, the results show 317 days for Bush and 264 days for Obama.
    Indeed, it took an average of 274.6 days for Bush’s appeals court nominees to get a hearing, compared to 69.6 days for Obama’s nominees, according to CRS. That’s a 4:1 ratio.
    In other words, the tables were turned in the Bush years. Just as Republicans now slow walk Obama’s nominees after the committee hearing, Democrats in control of the Senate in Bush’s years slow walked Bush’s nominees before the hearing. (Wheeler also notes that Bush insisted on renominating people whose appointments had run into trouble, while Obama is more quick to cut his losses. )
    In terms of rates of confirmation, overall Obama has had a better rate on appeals court judges (71.4 percent versus 67.3 percent for Bush) but a lower rate on district judges (82.7 percent versus 95 percent)."

    November 21, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  10. phil


    Born 1776
    Died 2013

    November 21, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  11. Eric

    So wait under Bush we had compromise. Under Obama we have what is essentially making the rules to force the outcome you want... Hmm he is such a great uniter of people...

    November 21, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  12. Randy

    America is not stupid they all know that President Obama is trying to get America attention off of Obama Care, this Nuclear mess just came out of no where all of a sudden, Obama fix the Obama care first then move on

    November 21, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  13. John

    It is an odd time for the Democrats to do this considering that they are very likely to be voted out of power in 2014. Obama is down to 37% approval, and Obamacare hasn't even started to affect the employee based health care system yet. It is just going to get worse and worse.

    November 21, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  14. scott sam

    does anything really matter anymore. I was once very active in political thought but the arguing back and forth has reached ridiculous levels between congress and the white house. sure republicans will be in power sometime in my life but I don't think it will matter then either. elections no longer actually do anything but put on stage the next person to get nothing done because the losing side will never cooperate. this is a societal issue. we are all guilty of the me first mentality and it sickens me. no one helps no one ever puts the other person first. our country is full of self righteous a holes that either think that everyone else is a free loader or everyone is limitlessly rich. the truth is we are so poor morally that we cant get past out own idea of how we think the world should be all the while we do nothing about it. hell with change everything in Washington because honestly most people give a damn less what happens on the street two blocks from their house.....we are selfish, childish, and ridiculously underwhelming people that need to get a grip.

    November 21, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  15. Lars

    The best news I've heard out of Congress in a long time, and in fact, Congress-persons are not to be sent to Washington DC just to obstruct the opposing party...We, as a nation, want Congress members to work out their differences and COMPROMISE a decision.

    And should the GOP decide to return to the obstructive rule which they call the senate "filibuster" if they should ever re-gain control of the senate, then they too must be mindful that whatever they should dish-out while in control, then Democrats should not hesitate to reciprocate once they're back in you get my drift?

    The bottom-line is that the Obstructionism that has been going-on in the US Congress needs to stop!!!!!

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  16. A Person

    It pains me to see people supporting this sort of idea. Let me get one thing straight here – I am neither Republican or Democrat. That said, this sort of thing is a disgrace. Our system was built upon checks and balances, this "option" will nullify that. It infuriates me to see people saying "yeah take that GOP! now we can get stuff done!1!1!1!11!!!11"

    Oh, you mean like turning our healthcare system from a mess into an absolute quagmire? Do any of you ACTUALLY know what the ACA is doing? Contrary to what CNN says, millions will be forced to get coverage they don't need at an increased cost, and most will find that their "sudden ability to get healthcare" will not be affordable to them.

    I am very sorry that our grandchildren have to clean up this mess. This is NOT, again NOT, R vs D with one side being correct or "practical", they all have their own agendas and we are the ones who will suffer. News flash, both parties are wrong. Unfortunately, most people think their party can do no wrong, and until that changes, we will continue in this fashion.

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  17. Thaddius

    This needed to happen a long time ago. It ensures that both Democrats and Republicans alike cannot abuse the filibuster. The Rethugnicans have tarnished their own name beyond repair by abusing it the past few years.

    Next up: gerrymandering.

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  18. ShawnDH

    ironmike whined: "Communism starts when you change the rules just to suit you!!"

    Um, yeah, nobody is interested in your goofy 1950's communism hysteria. How about..."Fascism starts when you abuse the system and defy the will of the people to suit you" as the Republicans have done. See how that works? Anybody can do it.

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. Buddha

    No one wanted it to come down to this. The republicans are so stupid to bring this down on themselves. If they new how to govern they would not have had to resort to filibuster so much. But they refused to do their job and tried to block every one of Obama's appointments.

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. GoArmy90

    The Dems just overturned Roe v Wade and they don't even know it. This maneuver will be renamed the Harry Reid option and the Republicans will use it for Supreme court justices without hesitation.

    November 21, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  21. Gloria

    Democracy is majority rule and the Republican left him no choice. Elections do have consequences and Obama's election and re-election have consequences. He should be able to fill judicial vacancies and executive branch vacancies. Enough is enough. Maybe now, Republicans will actually have to come up with an agenda for the country and not just block and obstruct everything Obama.

    November 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  22. ShawnDH

    Libtards are responsible cried: "Reid clearly got beaten up on a regular basis as a child."

    Which is why he's kicking your butts at every turn? Yeah, that makes sense.

    November 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  23. Michael

    2005 was different and can't be compared to now. Then there was at least a small part of bipartisanship in existence... now you have a bitter, vindictive GOP willing to throw the whole country under the bus to protest not getting their way. I guess what I'm saying is, between then and now, the Tea Party happened.

    November 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  24. Sad Republican

    They should have done this a long time ago, republican or democrat. If a majority of senators vote for something, then it should pass. They shouldn't have used the filibuster to block legislation. It wasn't meant for that.

    November 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  25. Thaddius

    Steve 22: Democrats are less likely to abuse the filibuster than Republicans. They're very much aware of it and have had to deal with Republican BS obstructionism for too long. This is best for everyone.

    November 21, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
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