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. Francine

    Obama was against this when he was a senator in 2005.

    November 21, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  2. Polijukie

    I'm proud of Harry Reid! Democracy at work. If the Republicans can make it harder for the American people to vote with unnecessary voter registration laws, shorter early voter laws, and gerrymandered districts, the Democrats can make it easier for the Senate to work!

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

    Now they own the consequences of his appointments just like they own obamacare.

    November 21, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  4. Angry American

    see the real terro rists are running the country....oh this comment has to be approved before being posted.

    November 21, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  5. Garrett from Texas

    Really? The Dems blocked as many during Bush and only 2 of 215 judicial nominees have been denied (that's less than 1% for the math inept) and absolutely 0% of any nominees for any position have ever been stopped based on a filibuster.

    The reason for this Nuclear option is a lie. This applies to all legislative actions and they want to start pushing some other agenda soon that they won't be able to get their entire party behind, so they're hedging their bets now under the guise of "judges" and nominations.

    November 21, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  6. Jesse from KC

    So, the Republicans change the rules in the House of Republicans (I mean, Representatives) on September 31, stripping the power from everyone but Eric Cantor to call for a bill to be brought up for debate/vote, and almost no one hears about it.

    November 21, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  7. cal

    GOP brought it on themselves. They have filibustered everything Obama wanted to implement including necessary appointments. The GOP minority should not be able to strike down the agenda of the majority just because it does not agree. GOP wants to play hardball well it reaped what it has sown. GOP have a long hard look in the mirror you have no one else to blame but yourselves.

    November 21, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  8. JERRY O

    Why these idiots went this route is because they don't want to answer any more questions on Benghazi...
    The hypocrites need to be prosecuted..

    November 21, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. Saboth

    I'm all for filibusters where you actually have to stand there and talk, but this nonsense about just saying "I'm filibustering" has to go.

    November 21, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. Rick

    Obama and Reid are corrupt and do not care about this country or the American people.................

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  11. Eddie Quinn

    Democrats will soon find out that what "comes around, goes around" and payback is a real B!

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. rad666

    How about 'nuclear option' for Obamacare?

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  13. ChrisM

    That is what you republicans get for filibusting 400 freaking times. You republicans abused it and now you LOSE it.
    Remember that republicans!!

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  14. Rusty

    Headline font big enough, CNN?

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  15. Lois

    Which moron named anything that isn't truly nuclear, nuclear? Is there one brain amongst any of them?

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  16. oscar

    About time!

    5 years of Republican obstruction on absolutely everything, and so many court vacancies. The over-use of the filibuster by this Republican caucus is historic.

    BTW, to people who are confused, the filibuster still exists, this rule change only prevents its use for some judicial nominees – so it's extremely narrow. But it's a start.

    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  17. California

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




    November 21, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  18. Lisa

    swatguy is right. The US is setup with a check and balance system. By changing the rules the government officials are essentially saying to the American people who voted them in F*%& You. You and your vote don't matter.

    November 21, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  19. The REAL Truth...

    Gotta love all the right wing hater trolls whining (again) about moves being made in the Senate that the GOP has ALREADY MADE in the House.. what about Boehner NUCLEAR option that only allows a vote brought to the floor if approved by Cantor (or a deputy)?? How is that any different..and why didn't CNN make that front page news when it happened back on Cot 1st???

    November 21, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  20. Josh

    Tyranny should not be acceptable to any American on either side.

    November 21, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  21. sayer

    About time dems started playing offense.

    November 21, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  22. John

    This should have been the law to begin with. A simple majority should pass any and all issues brought up for a vote. It really makes literally no sense to have the minority side agree when they unite on their side when the issue is more important.

    November 21, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  23. California

    Democrats will be against it when Republicans are in power. All in due time.

    Play ignorant dems.

    November 21, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  24. Solitairedog

    It's about time! Our government has been held to ransom for too long. If you don't stand up to bullies, they keep taking more.

    November 21, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. GOPnightmare

    Who didn't see this coming? I did. For more than 5 years now the Republicans in the house and senate have done nothing but try to get rid of Obama. It didn't work. They stood by and did nothing when the disaster they call Obama care was passed. They could have worked to make it work instead they did there normal nothing but wine about it. I know some are going to say rightly so but here is a fact we need healthcare reform in this country.....not Obama-care. Because well we the people don't generally like being told what to do...and having the IRS in charge of making sure we have insurance will never go over big with the public. And now after all this time of the republicans doing nothing they democrats have brought the big guns....and are changing the rules....there nightmare has come true. Of course all the democrats might want to think hard about th is is they ever loose the senate.

    November 21, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
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