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. RF

    And the DOW jumps back over 16000! I guess big business likes the fact that the Republicans can't hold up congress anymore.

    November 21, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  2. JJ236

    The entry level community organizer got elected POTUS and his incompetence only magnifies any DC issue. And reid should be subject to term limits. Career ineffective politicians who are re elected for no logical reason are the cause of this whole mess anyway.

    November 21, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  3. blf83

    Excellent! This should have been done much earlier.

    November 21, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  4. CryBabies

    FY Harry Reid. You can't be gone too soon. I truly hope this is your demise ....Gawd knows your brains were in the toilet when you and Madam Pelosi engineered Obamacare. This is just trhe crown on the weasel.

    November 21, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. Aybabtu

    Somebody set us up the bomb

    November 21, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  6. sly

    Thank you Senators. The Republicans have one goal for America – to destroy it.

    The party is full of lyin' m-fxers who voted EIGHT years in a row to INCREASE the debt ceiling – and voted 100% for the increase all 8 years. Now that we have a half-white President, they'll lie through their teeth to stop him. Heck – they'd like to hang him from a tree.

    Eliminate Republicans – through whatever means necessary. They are treasonous, and out to destroy America.

    Notice President Obama reduced the debt by 50% this year – from over $1 trillion to less than $600 billion now. In a couple of years – it's gone. Thanks largely to Affordable Health Care, which has lowered insurance rates to the lowest level in FIFTY (50) years.

    November 21, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  7. Tif

    Because of this very reason I BACK THIS MEASURE 1000%. I love a president who has balls.

    ""A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to re-fight the results of an election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, it cannot become normal," President Obama said.

    November 21, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  8. Jon W

    Democrats has used the filibuster 75% of the time so it's hypocritical of them to do this. All there doing is getting the media off the obama care MESS. 10 trillion and counting what's next....

    November 21, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  9. Patrick0472

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”
    Benjamin Franklin

    We are a republic not a democracy. There should be limits placed on the majority to protect the minority

    November 21, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  10. CryBabies

    @ Michael The ACA threw the American people under the republican fingerprints on that POS.

    November 21, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  11. Newg

    Are you kidding? The GOP is throwing the whole country under the bus? Who's pass the socialized health care train wreck? My God.... wait til 2014. All you idiots are going to realize how bad this rule change is when it back fires. Even if it doesn't change in 2014... the shoe will inevitably be on the democrats other foot and they'll cry about what they did today.


    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 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  12. Belinda

    Seems to me the posters on this board are no different than the politicians. Whiney brats unwilling to give, bargain, negotiate, communicate or compromise. Nothing will be fixed and this country will not improve until people get over themselves and stop being such idiotic Divas.

    November 21, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  13. Micky McWhalen

    This is a simple ploy by the corporate-owned government to distract from issues that really matter; such as a Dollar that is devauled 98% and an economy kept alive by destructive Federal Reserve monetary policies.

    November 21, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  14. silencedogood20

    Wait for Democrats to start calling this rule change the worst thing ever, facist, racist, terrorist, etc. as soon as they are out of power and want to use the filibuster themselves.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. sickofitall

    the day will come soon when the tables will turn – Senate will be in the hands of Republicans and democrats will regret this day.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. ShawnDH

    California cried: While AMERICA LOSES.

    If you're losing, why don't you take some PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY? By every standard, things have improved under Obama. Nice try, though.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    It's about time

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  18. Mr_Blunder

    What!? No more Green Eggs and Ham...darn.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  19. SAM

    Its not a good thing to change how democracy works just because someone doesn't think it works. There have been a few times the filibuster may not have stopped something from going through but at least brought that something into the public spot light.

    This change isn't a good one.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  20. Ron

    We need to reduce the influence of the President on Congress. Get rid of 'Hailto the chief', etc. We 're created a new king to replace the old.

    This isn't about Obama but the Executive branch gone viral in the last 75 years.

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  21. freedom

    "A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits," I think Obama is confused. He's talking about himself. Honestly, don't they have a psychiatrist on staff at the White House to sort out the delusional president and his dysfunctional team?

    November 21, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. silencedogood20

    P.S. Remind me again why anyone knows who Wendy Davis is? Oh, yes, she participated in a filibuster.

    November 21, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Whatever


    Born 1776
    Died 2001


    November 21, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. robrickmon

    "If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear that the partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything."

    -Barak Obama voting for the filibuster before he voted against it.

    November 21, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  25. ShawnDH

    Francine whined: "Obama was against this when he was a senator in 2005."

    And McConnell was for this reform in 2005. What's your point?

    November 21, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
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