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. Lar 5

    What's the big deal. Nothing get's done in the senate or house. They are all just a bunch of useless freeloaders, having the best benefits imaginable and living on our dole. Their main aim is to get re-elected so that they do not have to work for a living. The nuclear bomb should have been term limits.

    November 21, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  2. Eric

    Dem did what was right. I used to vote mostly for the Republican but never again after the gov shutdown. Never again

    November 21, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  3. Bobby Ray

    Only the GOP would call majority rules the NUCLEAR OPTION.

    November 21, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  4. mbsmith91

    Hypocrites. The dems screamed bloody murder when the GOP controlled the Senate and threatened the nuclear option. What goes around comes around. The GOP will control both the Senate and White House in the VERY near future and then just wait, baby.

    November 21, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  5. Tony

    It's really fun watching all the Tea Partiers' heads explode over this.

    November 21, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  6. emintey

    Greater than 50% of the filibusters since the founding of the nation have occurred in the past 6 years, this is abuse of the power of the minority in the senate which has paralyzed government, the senate minority is entirely responsible for this and they apparently had no intnetion of behaving any better. Frankly, if republcians want to change this they should discuss amending ther behaviour which is unprecedented, in the meantime government has to function.

    November 21, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  7. wolf

    It's amazing how the GOP still has any support at all. What have they done since Obama got elected? Turn their ENTIRE party into a lead weight for whole country then blame Obama for everything every 5 minutes.

    November 21, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  8. NewAmericanZero

    Typical. The same group of congressional people and the President that opposed the very same thing not too long ago, gave speeches about the importance of adhering to rules in place for over 200 years....blah blah blah.... And here they show their true colors. Manufactured 'crisis' of 'work that needs done' that is nonsense. The court appointments don't even have backlogs for the seats they want to fill. I would be willing to bet they change the 'rules' back right before they anticipate their majority will disappear....which is very possible with the legit problems that plague this administration and their policies. Anyone claiming that some sort of illegal 'obstruction' is taking place have no clue what they are talking about and have never studied how our 'republic' functions. They are just regurgitating talking points and continuing with 'labels' to spin their agenda.

    November 21, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  9. Obumba

    This means that the republicans will end filibuster for everything.

    November 21, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  10. mbsmith91

    Way to go, Harry. This will come back to bite you in the VERY near future.

    November 21, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  11. J Whitaker

    It is a sad day... one small blow to the land of the free... another giant leap towards government domination.

    November 21, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  12. jrm03063

    FINALLY – the filllibuster was a way to make sure everything was given a fair airing – it was never intended to become a way for a minority to prevent anything from happening! This restores majority rule and will allow the Senate to actually DO ITS JOB! As far as the whining GOP goes – maybe they should just go to "fillibuster detox" – since they've obviously failed to figure out that they LOST THE LAST TWO ELECTIONS!

    November 21, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  13. Gene

    Reid didn't go far enough. He shouldn't have limited the new rule to just federal court nominees. It should have been a blanket rule for every issue. Don't worry about what the republicans may do in the future. We can fight that battle when it gets here.

    November 21, 2013 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  14. Flappy

    Terms like "Nuclear Option" are a symptom of the problem we have with congress and the media. I'm sure using extremist terms gets people's attention but the end result is no one works together and nothing gets done. The current filibuster rules have been abused horribly and its time to change them. Its not healthy to let one person or a small group of people bring the country to a standstill on a whim. Haven't we had enough of that?

    November 21, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  15. Tim

    I would like to remind all of you Democrats/ Liberals out there that these very same Senators including his royal highness Berry O argued against the very same rule they just passed back in 2005, Hypocrisy I know thy name it is Liberal.

    November 21, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  16. Rich

    It doesn't matter if or when the Senate gets taken back by the GOP they're going to end the filibuster. Reid's mistake was not doing this in January.

    November 21, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  17. Dennis

    Great going Harry!! If Obama-care is any indication of how messed up the Dems one sided majority can be, I can't wait to see the idiots approve BHO's list on completely unqualified nominees.

    November 21, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  18. Tim in LA

    The republican party has demonstrated that they are more interested in scoring points then trying to do what is right for this country. The fact that the Democratic party had to stoop so low was because they had to get face to face with the republicans. You know, the party of "HELL NO". If they had tried to work with the Democrats and the President, this would have never happened. It's a sad day that the republicans caused this to happen.

    November 21, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  19. Loathstheright

    Good, the treasonous actions by racist Republicans has got to come to an end.

    November 21, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  20. Reid is a clown

    Reid is OK messing with the Filibuster–until the republicans take over the senate. The Filibuster is in there for a reason.

    Las Vegas voters should be embarrassed that Reid 'represents" them.

    November 21, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  21. Woodrow

    CNN's treatment of this is funny. Back in'05 you went nuts over republicans talking about the idea. But when dems actually do it, it's a ho-hum headline where you effectively endorse it. Nice.

    November 21, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  22. Mike C

    For those people who think that the Democrats did the right thin you are crazy. Remember, the Democrats have not only opened the door for Obama to stick whoever he wants regardless of qualifications in government positions. The Democrats have opened the door to ALL future presidents as well. That means there will be a super radical president regardless of party affiliation in the future that will use this for his political advantage and for the detriment of our democracy.

    November 21, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  23. Rembrant

    Good. Now that Republicans are done wasting their time with filibustering (a.k.a tantruming), they can finally get their lazy obstructionist derrieres to to work doing what they are supposed to be doing: making government work and moving this country forward.

    November 21, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  24. Betty

    Another move by the King and his court. Funny even obama voted against this in 2005 0r 2006 as a senator!!

    November 21, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  25. Geton Em

    REID! This is how you destroyed our country and your party in the first place. You used the Nuclear Option to get your Health Care law in. You crammed it down our throats. You are are just unbelievable. The founders never intended the Nuclear Option to be used on major legislation and such.... You are killing our country!! What a Snake you are!

    November 21, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
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