The man who coined the term 'nuclear option' regrets ever pursuing it
November 21st, 2013
01:32 PM ET
7 years ago

The man who coined the term 'nuclear option' regrets ever pursuing it

Washington (CNN) – Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s message to current Leader Harry Reid could be boiled down to this: I know how you feel, but trust me, you are going to regret this.

Lott watched Thursday as Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” by voting to change filibuster rules and made it easier for them to approve President Barack Obama’s judicial appointments that Republicans have blocked.

Why does Lott know from experience that Reid will regret this? Because he has “been there” and “knows how it feels.”

Lott is widely considered the man who coined the term “nuclear option” when he said a similar 2003 plan was “nuclear.”

“It was mistake when we were talking about doing it,” Lott told CNN shortly after Thursday’s senate vote. “I still believe the Senate is a unique institution and the rules – no matter how cumbersome and difficult – are better than just making it another House of Representatives.”

In 2003, Republicans were frustrated that Democrats were continually blocking judicial nominations by then-President George W. Bush. Out of that frustration, Lott devised a plan that allowed Republicans to confirm judicial appointments with a simple 51-vote majority – not the standard 60 votes threshold needed to break a filibuster.

Lott, who now prefers to call his plan the “constitutional option,” said it didn't take him long to believe it was an error to even pursue the plan.

“Pretty quickly, I concluded I made a mistake,” he said. “It was natural for us to do it because we were mad about them filibustering district and circuit court judges. I was irate about it. But it can come back to bite you and they [the Democrats] are going to regret this."

Lott’s point is one that many Republicans have made: While these moves may seem desirable when you are in the majority, those fortunes can shift with one election and Democrats could quickly find themselves with less power in the minority.

Or as the former Republican leader put it: "Once you let the cat out of the bag, he is out."

Filed under: Harry Reid • Senate • Trent Lott
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Donna

    Well, looks like the Democrats KNOW they are getting the boot in 2014 so are now moving to do whatever they can to further jam their far left agenda and appointees down our throats. Just remember YOU did this Democrats. Obama refuses to negotiate, Senate refuses to compromise and work with Republicans so chances the rules and process, just like they did to jam Obamacare down our throats..

    Reality is we are in the middle of a leftist coup in Washington. They know their days are numbered so they will try to do as much as they can in the next year to damage this country further. Obama has been doing this unilaterally and uncoonstitutionally with executive orders that modify laws, which is not his role under our form of government.

    November 21, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  2. just saying

    and now the democrats proceed to stack every court in this country with far left lunatics like them, damaging this country for decades to come. well, america, this is what you get for putting leftist democrats in control of your government. they have refused to compromise every step of the way and now prove their real intentions. obamacare was just the first thing they will jam down your throat. there is far more to come. it might very well be time for a second american revolution.

    November 21, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Thomas

    Trent Lott’ ?

    Wasn't he the Big supporter of GW Bush and the liberation of Iraq ?

    Did we have a recession since then ?

    November 21, 2013 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  4. Marie MD

    Lott who?

    November 21, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    Yeah, he's so special for the words that come out of his when he lamented that the country would have been better off if Strom Thurmond had become POTUS and blocked the Civil Rights Act.

    November 21, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    I know how you feel, but trust me, you are going to regret this.
    Mr. Lott, did you ever have to implement your "option"?
    Did the Democrats back then back down and not out put you in a position where you had to excercise that option by allowing presidential nominees into these courts to be confirmed?
    Did the Democrats see REASON in your day?
    The thing is that Republicans are not seeing reason, do not want to be reasonable, nor much less will they compromise and back down.
    Until the Republicans regain their sense of civility, common purpose for the greater good, and civic-mindedness thsi is the way things have to roll in order to get things to, well, roll.
    So I hear you, but desperate times calls for desperate measures.
    They may live to regret this decision, perhaps, but for sure, this is no way to live.

    November 21, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  7. just asking

    wow.... the leftist democrats will stop at nothing to force their far left agenda down the throats of the american people. they jammed obamacare down our throats with a totally partisan 51 vote threshold, refusing to compromise every step of the way. democrats won and it was their way, just shut up and sit in the back seat. well, we now see how all that worked out for the american people.

    and now the democrats in the senate are positioning themselves to do this very same thing when it comes to confirming appointees. democrats don't need to, or want to compromise on mutually agreeable nominees. now if the democrats want to appoint van jones, a former obama administration czar and admitted communist, to a high government position or court, then he automatically gets the job.

    the senate has now voted for mob rule to get everything they refused to compromise for. it might be time for a march on washignton dc to restore our democracy and take it back from the far left progressive/socialist/communist/democrat party.

    November 21, 2013 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  8. vic , nashville ,tn

    Enough is enough time to move fast I agreed with Reid

    November 21, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Lott, who now prefers to call his plan the “constitutional option,” said it didn't take him long to believe it was an error to even pursue the plan.
    I agree. They should get rid of the silent filibuster, instead. Right now, one cowardly Senator can conduct an unlimited number of concurrent silent filibusters without anyone outside of the Senate the wiser. Hey, man. I want my C-SPAN.

    November 21, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    To Donna, just sayin and every other totally blind to the realities of what Teapublicans are doing to America.

    You can make all the excuses, invent all of the imagined "coups" you want, but enough is enough. I hope
    this is the beginning of the end to the constant obstructionist agenda that have suppressed the recovery of America
    for the last 5 years. It is time Republicans worked for America and not themselves and their "sugar daddies".

    Yet, just today we see the "GOP Playbook", Boehner talking out of both sides of his mouth, as usual, we
    hear of a mostly blank piece of paper labeld "GOP 2014 Agenda", meaning no work will be done, handed out
    to whoever Cantor gave them to.

    This game playing has put our economy on the brink of disaster, people are still suffering, their "jobs" agenda
    is non-existent, and the lame excuses would be laughable if this wasn't so serious.

    So "rant" on teas, and be careful what you wish for, because you sure aren't going to get any help from
    your "friends". They are no more looking out for you than I am.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  11. tom l

    @DMFO and Marie,
    Did you know that Marie thinks that if you're attracted to an African American that it's a fetish.

    November 21, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  12. S.B. Stein

    The problem is that there are too many teapublicans that don't understand the need to get things done with compromise. They are too much in the "my way or the highway" mentality that doesn't really reflect what a legislative body should be,

    November 21, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    the senate has now voted for mob rule to get everything they refused to compromise for.
    Oh please deep-throat, be the good little swallower that you are and stfu.
    When you're out there marching on dc don't forget the minoirty mob rule that has been the rule in the House, and don't forget to wave your little snake in the grass flag so that we know who you are.

    November 21, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. Winston Smith

    When faced with a problem, do what needs to be done to solve the problem. How sweet it will be after the elections. Good bye GOP, and good riddance.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  15. current state of the union

    Donna, still struggling with reality sweetie? Exactly how are the dems trying to control your life? Who is trying to decide who gets to vote, who gets birth control, who gets an abortion, what prayers to say in school, it goes on and on.

    November 21, 2013 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  16. Ron L

    I disagree with Senator Lott because up until now there was usually some rational to filibusters used in the Senate. Today the filibuster is used because they just don't want the position filled by a Democratic President. In the last 5 years there has been over 200 filibuster against the President. In the last 230 years there has only been a total of 477, THIS IS ABUSE and requires a radical response. One of the problems the Democrats have had for years is the allow Republicans to threatened them into backing down on an issue. I am glad to see them get fed up with what has been going on. I am not worried about the future, I am fed up with the present situation and glad to see it changed.

    November 21, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. TONE

    @Just saying, asking
    We the democrats will rule this country for decades to come so either you two live with it or move back into your bunker or out of the country

    November 21, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  18. current state of the union

    The gop just wants to leave the courts empty, so they can fill them if they win the white house, problem is that might be a while, 11 years or so, they are power thirsty thugs, and there is no bottom to where their willing to go, they were all to willing to harm the global economy to get what they want, not our fault you can't win an election, do something for the people for a change!

    November 21, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  19. Silence DoGood

    @Donna "to jam Obamacare down our throats" "leftist coup"

    Unlike the Freedom Fighters on the Radical Right that are looking to tell people who to marry, what is the proper state-religion for all, what a women may do with her body, what subjects in school are dangerous knowledge, who are the right people to immigrate etc.......

    I think I will stick with the "leftist coup", as you call it.

    November 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  20. The Real Tom Paine

    Wow, judging by the comments on here, we have some real rightie demagogues-oops, I'm sorry, we can't say that, even when they invoke apocolyptic language and threaten a new revolution. Remember, Liberals, we are the ones who are the demagogues on here, right, Tom l?

    November 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  21. waitasecond

    Can't they just reverse the rule change right before they leave office, thereby forcing the Republicans to go nuclear on their own?

    November 21, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  22. talldarkfree

    just asking....

    You need to get a life. Perhaps an elementary school education where you can at least have some ridiculous posts....

    November 21, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  23. Abbey

    Yes Democrats it started with YOU!

    November 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  24. Abbey

    Harry Reid has the American public first in his mind? Pure rubbish, just look the all the Obama appointees who have shady records.

    November 21, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  25. Data Driven

    Today has been an excellent lesson in cognitive dissonance. Observe:

    (Paraphrasing): "This move by the democrats is tyrannical!"
    (Now, at the same time, a different thought): "Just wait till the Repubs take back the Senate, libbies!"

    Er ... so which is it? A horrifying abuse of power? Or a tool to be used against your political opponents later?

    Ponder carefully, y'all. BWA!

    November 21, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
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