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. Nathan

    Bad move for the Dems at a bad time. They are likely going to lose their grip on the senate in the next elections, and then they will be the minority.

    November 21, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  2. M

    IF the republican party is prejudice then why are they for DR Ben Carson. O maybe most America dont want to listen to a wise man. You don't get to do what he does by being dumb.

    November 21, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. ShawnDH

    Doc cried: "Obama... Liar AND Hypocrite!"


    November 21, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  4. Keith

    "Revenge?" This mentality is part of what made this change necessary. When the Republican EGO guides how they govern all Americans suffer.

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  5. Narragansett RI

    I'm moving to Canada....

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  6. jack

    There is no reason why the Republicans are filibustering nominations except to be obstructionists. This is just deliberate games Republicans play from the party of NO..........

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  7. BLE7481

    Just completing the takeover. Jamming idiots onto the bench in the D.C. circuit is so important that an historic check in the government process is tossed on the scrapheap, so Obama can "win".

    Pathetic, but unsurprising. Fortunately, there will be other elections where we can re-fight the results of this one – unless, of course, the left declares that "not normal" and decides to do away with the pesky things.

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  8. slappy white

    Terrorists only understand force. Harry Reid made the right call.

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  9. Doug

    If this were done under a Republican president the uproar would be deafening. However, King O thinks it's wrong for people to disagree with his choices so here we are.

    November 21, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  10. billmelater1

    jerrymcm1970 said this.

    "It's about time. 168 filibusters of Presidential nominees in the entire history of the United States and HALF of them have taken place under President Obama. It's ridiculous. GOP obstructionism has to stop."

    Would you be saying this if it where the Republicans doing this? I bet not.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  11. hippie power 69

    it is about time the democrats are doing something about these repubs. they lost but yet they think they can and have controlled the process with one senator. bull!! majority rules. the dems tried to work with them but they have never stood by their word so the heck with them. enough already.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  12. JackBriss

    It's sad that liberals voted these Inept people into office. Our country has gone down hill since Obama became president.The problems now are there because of hsi lack of leadership and experience. Anyone who can NOT see this is in for a rude awakening.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. rainwash

    The Dems went for a little power grab today that will blow up in their faces after they lose the Senate in 2014.

    Harry Reid just GUARANTEED the repeal of Obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. TheDude

    Obama I really think it must have been extremely difficult to do but Congratulations you are officially worse than the entire Bush family.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  15. Don

    Congress and the senate are all full of it. They only thing they care about is what lines their pockets and votes. Why do you think the Democrats are pushing laws for the illegal aliens in this country. They act like they care for the people but they don't. They all should be impeached.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  16. FedUP

    This is exactly why the American political system needs a major overhaul – get rid of this two-party BS! People focus so much on party affiliation it's ridiculous. At this point choosing to support Democrat or Republican is like choosing to support Bloods or a Crips...neither choice is any likelier than the other to serve you better. We need to elect an independent president.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  17. ShawnDH

    salc cried: "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."

    But you're fine with Republicans pathologically obstructing government and defying the will of the people? Of course. Hypocrite.

    November 21, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  18. Fish

    If Obama says he likes it he must be planning another Wall Street bailout, er, my mistake QE or stimulus, or corporate welfare, or Obamasnare, etc.. I'd rather wait for the movie than live this stuff!!! How do we sue a President???

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  19. Donnie the Lion

    This is great news in general.....people complain Congress isn't doing anything, this obstacle was one of the reasons why. And it applies across both parties.

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  20. John Harding

    This is classic "republicons" playing chess while he dems are playing checkers. If this passes the cons will be slapping backs in cigar rooms across the county. They may have to deal with it for now but come the next time they have the chance, it will get exploited and used against the dems

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  21. DifrntDrmr

    First the Dems finally stood up the the Republican's blackmail with the shutdown. Now they kill the filibuster. It is about time!

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  22. Tom

    What goes around, comes around. Enjoy it while you can Harry and when you are in the minority again don't go crying when the majority party does this to you.

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  23. this

    "Obama supports Senate's nuclear option, rule change"

    Of course he does. He always chooses the option to grab more power at the expense of others.

    November 21, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  24. Daniel

    Very well done. Republicans are champions on changing the rules everywhere where they have power. Just look at the House, or look at all the state congresses where they changed the districts to win more seats in Congress. Or the way they are creating rules to make harder for minorities to vote,

    They have no right to complain because the Dems are changing the rules. Like always they like to do this stuff to others but then complain ans cry foul when it is done to them.

    November 21, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  25. longtooth

    OK, ladies, let's have a nice warm saucer of milk and think about this. What's wrong with streamlining the process? What's wrong with simple majority? The same rules will be in place if the republicans ever gain a majority again. The playing field will remain level. Democrats are just as guilty as republicans of abusing the filibuster in the past. It was a bad rule. Get rid of it, simplify government, and start representing the will of the majority, no matter how ignorant or stupid they may be.

    November 21, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
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