The United States Senate deployed the "nuclear option" on Thursday, instituting a historic change to effectively eliminate filibusters for presidential nominees to positions other than the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who led the push to eliminate the filibusters, has long referred to such a drastic policy change as the “nuclear option,” but he said he felt compelled after Republican filibusters blocked the appointment of three judicial nominees to the highly influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid said in a speech Thursday morning.
“In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration -- during the last four and a half years. These nominees deserve at least an up or down vote, yes or no,” Reid continued. “But Republican filibusters deny them a fair vote, any vote, and deny the president his team.”
Under the old rules, a filibuster instituted by a minority party would take 60 votes to break, but under Reid’s new rules, the Senate can end a filibuster with a simple majority of 51 votes. This move effectively cripples the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominations for legislative and judicial offices.
The Senate voted 52-48 to institute the change. Every Republican voted against the nuclear option, and three Senate Democrats voted against the change: Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Soon after the vote, Senate Democrats used their new powers to end the filibuster on Obama’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate voted 55-43 to end the filibuster as two Senators voted present.
President Obama announced his support of the nuclear option on Tuesday, calling Republicans’ efforts to block his judicial nominations "an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress." The president accused Senate Republicans of blocking his appointments on the basis of their political affiliation, not their competence for the job at hand.
“It’s no secret that the American people have probably never been more frustrated with Washington, and one of the reasons why that is, is that over the past five years, we’ve seen an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that’s prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done,” Obama said. “Today’s pattern of obstruction just isn’t normal. We can’t allow it to become normal.”
While Obama and Senate Democrats praised the filibuster elimination, Republicans are overwhelmingly furious about the vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who attempted to recess the Senate for a day before Reid instituted a vote,
“I don’t think this is a time to be talking about reprisal. I think it’s a time to be sad about what has been done to the United States Senate,” McConnell told Politico.
McConnell also added that be believes the best way for Republicans to recover from the change is to win the upcoming midterm elections.
“The solution to this problem is an election. The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election on 2014,” he said.