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. sammy750

    The people wants work done McConnell, not your ranting. McConnell face is so RED. He is fire mad, ranting, lying on the senate floor. Sit down McConnell

    November 21, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    That amounts to WH seizure of power from Congress.........and that should absolutely DEMAND impeachment.

    November 21, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  3. Sniffit

    "because it would take away a sacrosanct right for any party in the Senate minority – the right to filibuster."

    Sacrosanct? It's not in the Constitution. Furthermore, it wouldn't take it entirely away. The Dems are proposing rules changes solely with respect to the nominations process because the GOP/Teatrolls are nullifying the POTUS' constitutional powers by legislative fiat. It should be properly viewed as the constitutional crisis that it is:

    The filibuster is NOT in the Constitution.
    The Senate invented the silly thing all by itself.
    It's abuse is effectively nullifying constitutionally granted power of the executive branch and POTUS.
    Congress/the legislative branch does NOT have the power to grant itself, via acts outside of the constitution, the power/authority to nullify the POTUS's constitutionally granted powers.

    It's that simple, and CNN's whitewash of it in this article is blatantly designed to help the GOP/Teatrolls defend themselves so this can be a bigger nontroversy than it should be. What they've been doing is a far greater threat to the checks and balances in the Constitution than anything the Senate Dems are threatening to do to the filibuster rules for nominees.

    November 21, 2013 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  4. daremonai

    This seems like the exact opposite of a nuclear option.. this is the disarmament option.

    November 21, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  5. Brenda

    It is time for all of them to do their jobs. The idea of the "nuclear" option is scary but nothing else is working. When all nominees are being blocked something has to be done. As for Reid taking it back to the Obamacare fiasco that is a cheap blow. If he and the others were doing their jobs this wouldn't even be happening. Take a vote, be grown up and make decisions based on a persons qualifications and quit stalling just to be obstinate. Oh yeah and Reid maybe if the judges positions were all filled more court cases would be booked instead of being settled so as not to over burden the system.

    November 21, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  6. obawendon

    If the party of NO would actually say YES once in a while, things like this would not come up. I am not for this, but I sure understand the frustration. The office of the President should be able to fill it's positions with who ever they choose so they can function. If they fail to function properly, we the people can deal with it down the road.

    November 21, 2013 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  7. Hogarth

    Do it, Harry. The filibuster has no place in a Democracy.

    November 21, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  8. Jolat

    "The war in Iraq is lost" Harry Reid, April 2007

    November 21, 2013 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  9. Dawn

    LOL... Poor Reid... maybe he should get out of office instead and let younger new generations prevail

    November 21, 2013 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. Kathy-AZ

    ----------------------------------------------------------Time to do away with the filibuster. The GOP has abused it WAAAAAAAAAAAY too much.

    November 21, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. radar8

    Give the GOP a bit of their medicine. Go nuclear.
    Doesn't the GOP realize that all of the nasty, obstructionist tricks they're played for the last 7 years will be used against them if they ever get into power? The Tea Party has stolen the GOP from the true conservatives.

    Time to take back the Senate. Screw the GOP.

    November 21, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  12. Tim

    @ Dallas. Make believe you live in a world where the government tells you that you have to purchase a product you already have and at such a price fulfilling the needs of your family just got a lot harder so you find it easier and cheeper not to purchase the product at all and pay the fine. Make believe this is your family. Would you want someone to obstruct such a plan as that? Probably must be getting what you want so it is OK for those other folks having their lives torn apart for the good of I am not always fond of either party but stopping bad law is a , well, good thing I want someone in my government to do. That does not mean trash improving health care for all. It means doing it in a proper and bipartisan way that is less disruptive and harmful.

    November 21, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  13. terry nord

    Harry is exactly what is wrong with DC.he is a poster child for term limits!

    November 21, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. America knows better

    Time for the senile two-faced obstructionist Harry Reid to go, and let's hope he takes Nero with him.

    November 21, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  15. Tom

    The reason Washington is broken is because the politicians sincerely do not like each other. This is what happens when someone will do anything or say anything to win an election. If you like this message, you can keep it.

    November 21, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  16. VJ

    After crossing more than 500 filibusters, finally Harry Reid raise once again.. Kudos to him...

    November 21, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  17. Cameron

    Ever since the republicans have been in the minority there have been a record number of fillibusters. I do think its good that the minority has some power but republicans have abused it. Sen McConnal made a speech a couple years ago about how the president "has learned how he is dealing with a robust republican party" or something along those lines. In short they need to be put in check.

    November 21, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  18. Adventure49

    "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

    I am tired of the GOP's obstruction; I say NUKE 'EM.

    November 21, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  19. BO

    Wednesday morning it's CBS News. The President's approval rating stands at 37% in their new survey, plunging nine percentage points since last month–a new low for Obama in CBS News polling. The President's disapproval rating shot up from 49% in October to 57% now, a new high.

    November 21, 2013 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  20. Dan

    Thank you CNN for being fail. When the GOP tried to do this, the words "Nuclear option" were used all over the media, by thousands of sources. Now, there are 633 sources on the web, and instead of "Nuclear option" we have "filibuster reform". At least your network isn't totally liberal biased.

    November 21, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  21. tony

    If the Tea Party thinks it is so loved, why doesn't it run candidates and itself as separate third party?

    Answer-because it isn't. It knows it and it wants to take over the USA by fraud.

    November 21, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  22. luke,az

    Go Get'em Harry ! The country is tired of Republican obstructionism.

    November 21, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  23. Dan

    Don't do it. This will blow up in your face.

    Also, take the hate out of politics; it is only being used to appeal to dumb Americans who want to be surrounded by more dumb Americans; all the while, the people who fund these angry politicians are making serious money. It's all deception to gain money and power; you all are messing this up because you are angry and hateful. I am an American, like you; this country is our, not just yours. We are all different and hold a multiple of beliefs. You are marching us to the end because of your hatred that is wrapped in a flag and perched on your bible.

    November 21, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  24. Adam

    The Republicans are trying to make it appear that both sides use the same tactics, which is simply not true. The Republicans have abused the filibuster in recent history, using it as a routine tactic rather that in an emergency. There was never a time in modern history when the democrats used as many filibusters when not in power. Change the rules, allow things to get done.

    November 21, 2013 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  25. John

    The u.s. is hilarious.

    November 21, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
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