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. think about it

    They're too stupid to see the writing on the wall and they're just lighting it up with spotlights. Keep it up dims.

    November 21, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  2. J-Man

    Don't the Democrats know their ratings are on a downward landslide? This is the last thing they need.

    November 21, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  3. steve

    I've been waiting my whole life for the right of the minority to lose any and all power. This is exactly what the founding-fathers wanted. Long live the majority and so-long to the minority. Now we can rule without any problem. Thank you, Dear Leaders. Thank you. I appreciate you changing the history of our country for our own good. Thank you.

    November 21, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  4. atlgirl

    Oh GROW UP will you Congress! These two groups constantly bickering and bickering, and wallowing in their expensive offices with free lunches paid for by the American taxpayers. You will notice that all of this crying and moaning usually only happens when the Republicans are out of power. Democrats are much more likely to cave in an effort to be bi-partisan (much to my regret sometimes) but Repugs not so much. God, this is all so boring and so tiring. We need TERM LIMITS!! Get these jokers on both sides of the aisle off the taxpayer funded vacay and into real jobs. Until that happens we can expect more of the same.

    November 21, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  5. Hell No!

    Dem Communists know what huge losers they will be in 2014 and they are so panicked that Dear Leader King Obama has given the orders to only represent one party. He doesn't care. His bootlickers will still kiss his royal AZZ and the media will cover. Obama apparently thinks he and his communist minions will rule for life.

    November 21, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  6. steve

    Who cares about the minority in power. It's all about the majority. I just hope we can change it back if we ever lose the senate...which I'm sure will NEVER happen. Only rich people vote Republican and everyone is poor! Right?

    November 21, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  7. TeaParty4Life

    Bad move demoncats...very bad move. Your tyranny will be recorded in history and u will all pay the price in the future. You are just too ignorant to see it yet, but u will when u Are no longer empowered!!

    November 21, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  8. Andy

    Wow, congress actually did something substantial?!

    November 21, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  9. texasjimbob

    Harry Reid on the "nuclear option" in 2004 "If they, for whatever reason, decide to do this, it's not only wrong, they will rue the day they did it, because we will do whatever we can do to strike back," incoming Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said last week. "I know procedures around here. And I know that there will still be Senate business conducted. But I will, for lack of a better word, screw things up."

    November 21, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  10. Jackson

    Harry Reid thinks the Senate was obsolete before? It's time to put the Democratic Party in their place. Supposedly the party that supports freedom of speech, minority rights, etc. has now demonstrated for all time that they are a despotic lot. Time for Nevadans to wake up and ditch this no-nothing idiot for someone who will quit acting like a two-year old baby throwing constant tantrums. This behavior is exactly what makes all Americans disgusted with our leaders.

    November 21, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  11. derek

    Some of the comments here are just as infantile as the politicians who abuse filibustering as a means of damaging our government for their own party's interests. The Democrats did what was RIGHT. There is no excuse for the GOP's ridiculous, unprecendented overuse of filibustering. The Democrats won't regret this whenever they are in the minority again because they don't filibuster even remotely as often as Republicans do. This action doesn't merit revenge, but applause from anyone rational from EITHER party.

    November 21, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  12. Tony C

    US politics has never been a 'majority rules" country. We are a republic and not a democracy. The reason ~ so the minority rights do not get trampled by tyranny. This is why Proposition 8 in California which was voted in heavily by a majority to not allow gay marriage was overturned as it was deemed a trampling of gay rights. So if we decide to go with Majority rules then Gay marriage should be illegal in California. Fillibuster is no different. Until Harry Reid stepped up today and made the biggest mistake of his party since the ACA was passed.

    November 21, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    No. This is an act of civil war.

    November 21, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  14. Landshark

    Sounds like the Democrats want to turn the senate into a sort of UK style parliamentary chamber, where the minority party can do little but sit down and be quiet and have not effect what so ever.

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if the next time the Senate needed a quorum vote, none of the Republicans showed up out of protest. Since they have been effectively neutered – what would be the point.

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  15. Tools

    Both these "clowns" learned nothing apparently from "ramming" Obamacare through the Senate and House – It is over Obama; you are the lousiest President we ever had.....and your kermudgen friend can go find some slot machines in Vegas to play when he gets his walking papers.

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  16. JCal

    These are the Democrats who pushed through Obamacare against 100% Republican opposition. Given what has happened with Obamacare, do you think giving Democrats this kind of superpower is wise? They should probably work on getting some kind of working healthcare bill out thee right now, before all those canceled are left in the cold!

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  17. the grimreaper

    this old fool can't be harvested by the Reaper soon enough........along with pelosi/boehner/mcconnel/etc, etc, etc........ I will hoist a chilled Guinness the days it happens.......and know this nation will be better off

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  18. mustache1

    I'm so happy they did this. GOP has been blocking politics as usual. The days of rich, white, male rule is coming to an end. Next we need to balance the supreme court and move it to the left. Overturn Citizens United. The upper 30% of the country can not and will not run the lower 70%. The GOP wants to destroy the country if they can't have their way. They GOP are worse than terrorist. Nothing wrong with majority rules.

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  19. PJ

    With guys like Cruz and Rubio representing the GOP I don't think the Dems had any choice.

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  20. mikewj

    Hooooorrraaaaaay! The founding fathers intended that there be a simple majority, with the V.P. breaking a tie. Glad that it's returned to that, regardless of which party is in power. If the current "out" party (Republicans) don't like, then run people for seats who are more electable, instead of the nuts they've been running the past few years.

    November 21, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  21. Qwen

    Gotta love politics.

    November 21, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  22. Hell No!

    Derek says "derek

    Some of the comments here are just as infantile as the politicians who abuse filibustering as a means of damaging our government for their own party's interests. The Democrats did what was RIGHT. There is no excuse for the GOP's ridiculous, unprecendented overuse of filibustering. The Democrats won't regret this whenever they are in the minority again because they don't filibuster even remotely as often as Republicans do. This action doesn't merit revenge, but applause from anyone rational from EITHER party."

    BS!!! Only if you are a communist who is so pathetically weak do you subscribe to this. Communist Dems have no wish, desire or skill to work with any group that refuse to walk lockstep to their HATE AMERICA tactics. Derek is a prime example,,,APPLAUDINJG the shutting out of voices being represented by dissenters in the Senate. Hitler would love you Derek...go kiss your Dear Leader's boots now.

    November 21, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  23. Redeye Dog

    One step closer to a dictatorship..

    November 21, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  24. ash

    Yikes. This is very 3rd worldish yikes.

    November 21, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  25. asdf-pnklasdf

    Obama, Reid, Biden and all of those democrats had very strong opinions against the "nuclear option" in 2005 when they were the minority.

    November 21, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
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