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. Brian

    Genius. Demcrates will hurt sooner than they think. It's not because GOP may take majority in 2014. It helps every single 3rd party member gain leverage.

    It's time for a significant 3rd party and force BOTH GOP and DEM, and OBAMA to BEHAVE!!!!

    This move makes perfect timing for a 3rd party to move up and make both parties less than dominating.

    November 21, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  2. luckjoe

    Of course Obama supports the Senate nuclear option. He can continue his dictator march until he destroys America.

    November 21, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  3. D Rock

    At least we'll start seeing some action from Congress. Whether it's good or bad will show up in the polls later next year.
    As it is right now, the public overwhelmingly voted for Obama and still the Republicans have done nothing but prevent his agenda. They haven't offered alternatives, solutions, reasonable arguments, or constructive criticism.
    If the entire country was all riding the same bus to work, then it was the minority Republican group in the back pulling on the brake cable every 10ft because they didn't like this particular bus route. Maybe it's time we actually get somewhere so the majority of the people can go to work?

    November 21, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  4. Mark

    Are some people just not understanding what was done? The rules change only affects appointments and judicial nominees (except those for the Supreme Court). It does not change the filibuster rules for legislative enactments – still need 60 votes to break a filibuster there). This is a limited and long overdue change – for the good of us all.

    November 21, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  5. nuclear mike

    The end of a America I grew up with all my life is now before all of us...shame on the Senate & Pres. Obama...I will work harder than ever to ensure the Democrats are in the minority after the next 2 elections!!!

    November 21, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. Veteran

    Wake up America this is just another power grab by the Dems to force their liberal agenda down our throats. These socialist will destroy our country with their "Common Sense" views. Their views are only "Common Sense" to their fellow communist.

    November 21, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  7. Rocco

    Oh no the poor republicans don't like being on this side of a rule change, huh? What about all the rules they created yo stop dens from voting last election? Or when the house changed the rules on who can bring a cr to the floor for a vote because they knew they had a losing position? Stop your whining, republicans are ten times dirtier than democrats will ever be.

    November 21, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  8. tim

    the filibuster is there for a reason – to stop the majority from doing extremist things. Radical extremist have won this battle. America has lost. Reed looks so evil.

    November 21, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  9. Claire

    There comes a point when a government ceases to have legitimacy.

    We have reached it.

    November 21, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  10. josh rogen

    eventually the worm will turn and the dems will be the minority party, unless they plan to change the rules governing elections as well.

    November 21, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  11. Cted

    it's about time. Finally the Senate can stop requiring the consent of a minority of a minority to stop all legislation. 40 senators should not be able to stop all legislation forever. At least the filibuster used to make you stand up and talk, that would be something, but this lazy filibuster where all it takes is saying "we filibuster" is ridiculous nonsense.
    James Madison would have been rolling in his grave at the very thought of a filibuster. We got along just fine without it for many years it is not essential to liberty or governance. It serves virtually no purpose anymore because it is employed by the minority, especially this republican minority (who have set filibuster records) without restraint. It is used to stop judicial appointments at every level of the courts for no reason at all.

    Good riddance.

    November 21, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  12. Chuck

    GREAT WORK DEAR LEADER! Why don't we say 2 year terms, and life max is 2 terms to serve in any office Senate, President, Congress. That would solve some problems.

    November 21, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  13. Magister

    Only way to put a stop to this crap is civil war.

    November 21, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  14. Concerned American

    All U.S. Americans should be very we are allowing our elected destroy the checks and balances that protect the American experience and way of life.. Every Democrat that voted for the nuclear option is unfit to be serving in the they have proven to not understand the American Democratic system of government and the American experience. We may wish to study history and recall what Hitler did in Austria.

    November 21, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  15. B.O.B.

    I'm sure this short sighted decision will dramatically improve the chances for the next Continuing Resolution to smoothly pass through both houses. Good luck with that.

    November 21, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  16. Tommy



    Take that GOP!

    November 21, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  17. FLIndy

    Absolutely agree with this poster!

    It is about time. LBJ faced ONE filibuster in 6 years. Obama has faced more than 350 in 5 years. And that doesn't even count the threats to filibuster, which have become just as effective at blocking debate on a bill. This government has to start working. Congress has to start passing laws, then working together to make necessary improvements to those laws. The Republicans and Tea Partyers in Congress have spent the last 5 years trying to nullify the results of the last two presidential elections by obstructing EVERYTHING this president has supported or proposed. In the process, the approval rating of Congress has dropped below 10%, which is the lowest rating of any governing body since these ratings were first created. The time to use the "nuclear option" is long overdue. Go ahead, Harry. Push the button.

    Am I the only one...that can't believe making the confirmation process a little easier requiring 51 votes rather than 60 is called a NUCLEAR OPTION!? How did we get to this point...CNN? When did we lose our sense of logic and reason to this level.. Please copy and paste this into your replies if you agree.

    November 21, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  18. Rob

    America is dead and Reid just made Obama the Liar America's first King. Obama, Reid and his supporters are traitors and should be put in prison for treason

    November 21, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    @Dominican mama 4 Obama – YOUR COUNTRY?? You'd best step back and look at who is actually causing the problems!
    Care to explain yourself, if you can that is?

    November 21, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  20. Jon

    Democratic credo: If you can't get your way under the rules of democracy, change the rules.

    November 21, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  21. Pierce Morganism

    HEY HILLARY! We missed you at the speech the other night; how about one for the road! Please pound your fist and say the following; “What does it matter, they lost their insurance because of OBAMA CARE, It’s Gone! Let’s move on!”

    November 21, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  22. Tony C

    I think the Dems think they are going to be in the majority next November. How ironic that Reid would choose tyranny as a legislative measure ~ and Dems better hope to be in the majority next year after the certain damages due to the ACA. Because pay back is definitely coming.

    November 21, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  23. Mike M

    Politicians' and diapers share the need to be changed frequently for the same reasons.... Time to stop voting for anyone on the far left or far right...

    November 21, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  24. Phillip Andrews

    Thank god....with Louisiana's Mary Landrieu voting yes, I can now rest assured she will no longer be representing the state of Louisiana in the Senate past 2014.

    November 21, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  25. Chris

    Obama and Reed will pay for their back door policies and I hope the "Right" begins immediately. Obama is the worst piece of c – – – that this country has ever had to endure. I thought that Jimmy Carter was the worst until this no mind got elected. The world laughs at us for having this coward as President who allows anyone to run over us. God save us

    November 21, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
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