Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 30, 2014

Democrats Go ‘Nuclear,’ Eliminate Filibusters on Most Nominees (Update)

Updated 1:22 p.m. | Senate Democrats succeeded Thursday in deploying the “nuclear option” to make the most fundamental change to floor operations in almost four decades, ending the minority’s ability to kill most presidential nominations by filibuster.

The Senate voted, 52-48, to effectively change the rules by rejecting the opinion of the presiding officer that a supermajority is required to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on executive branch nominees and those for seats on federal courts short of the Supreme Court.

Three Democrats — Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — voted to keep the rules unchanged.

The move came after Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised a point of order that only a majority of senators were required to break filibusters of such nominees. Presiding over the Senate as president pro tem, Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont issued a ruling in line with past precedent, saying that 60 votes were required. Leahy personally supported making the change.

Voting against Leahy’s ruling has the effect of changing the rules to require only a simple majority for most nominations.

The new precedent represents what’s likely to prove the most significant change in Senate rules since 1975, when the cloture threshold was reduced to 60 votes in most cases (from two-thirds of senators present and voting).

“The Senate is a living thing. And to survive, it must change. To the average American, adapting the rules to make Congress work again is just common sense. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans,” Reid said opening the Senate. “This is about making Washington work — regardless of who’s in the White House or who controls the Senate. To remain relevant and effective as an institution, the Senate must evolve to meet the challenges of a modern era.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., once a longtime Delaware senator, who previously said that he was open to changing the filibuster rules, told reporters traveling with him to a D.C. sandwich shop Thursday that he was on board with Reid’s move.

Sen. Jeff Merkley had been leading what was initially an uphill effort to change the way the Senate handles filibuster threats. The Oregon Democrat told reporters after the key vote that he didn’t think there was anything Republicans could do to un-ring the bell.

“The Senate has spoken,” Merkley said. “It has said we have tried to restore, through mutual understanding, the norms and traditions of the Senate time and time again, and each time the minority has failed to uphold its position.”

“Ending the abusive filibuster on nominations is a big step toward restoring the functionality of the Senate, and that matters for all of us. I hope we continue to look at ways to make this legislative body work better. We face big challenges as a nation, and we need a Congress that can take on those challenges,” Merkley said in a statement.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a prelude of what Reid and Democrats might experience in a “post-nuclear” Senate. There’s no shortage of procedural maneuvers available to delay Senate business both on the floor and at the committee level.

The Kentucky Republican led his conference in forcing a number of roll call votes on generally noncontroversial procedural motions. He also made a motion to adjourn.

“If they want to play games and set yet another precedent that they will no doubt come to regret, well … that’s a choice only they can make,” McConnell said earlier in the day.

Sen. John McCain told reporters he spent about an hour in Reid’s office Wednesday trying to figure out a way to once again avert the “nuclear option.” The Arizona Republican said it would “chill” other Senate business, including progress on a disability treaty.

“I’m very sad. I’m not angry. I’m just sad,” McCain said.

Asked about why the threats came to a head Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., couldn’t really explain it, though he noted the disagreement about the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that dates back to the George W. Bush administration.

“The D.C. circuit — that fight’s been going on for 10 years, packing the court. There’s nothing new about this debate,” said Graham. “Sen. Leahy raised the same objections when Bush was in. I don’t know. Maybe it is Obamacare. Maybe they do want to change the topic. I can’t explain it in terms of substance.”

The new reality will allow Democrats to advance nominees without Republican votes, but not without expending time and effort. The new rule was on display when the Senate voted, 55-43, to limit debate on the motion of Patricia Ann Millett to a seat on the D.C. appeals court. Until earlier in the day, that action would have required 60 votes.

Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas made the distraction from health care argument in his own statement.

“The Democrats’ attempt to pivot at a time when we should be focused on protecting the American people from dropped health care coverage makes their true motives clear,” Cornyn said. “They will do anything to take the attention off the failure that is Obamacare, even if it means breaking the rules of the Senate in a raw exercise of partisan political power.”

Many top Democrats who previously wavered on rules changes by simple majority backed Reid, including Leahy.

“I have always believed in the Senate’s unique protection of the minority party, even when Democrats held a majority in the Senate,” Leahy said in a statement. “When the minority has stood in the way of progress, I have defended their rights and held to my belief that the best traditions of the Senate would win out; that the 100 of us who stand in the shoes of over 310 million Americans would do the right thing. That is why I have always looked skeptically at efforts to change the Senate rules.”

Levin was one of the three who remained opposed, however.

“In the short term, judges will be confirmed who should be confirmed,” he said. “But when the precedent is set that a majority can change the rules at will on judges, that precedent will be used to change the rules on consideration of legislation, and down the road, the hard-won protections and benefits for our people’s health and welfare will be less secure.”

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

  • PBzeer

    Interesting that they decided packing the DC court was more important than having the filibuster for when they need it. And yes, they will need it. Perhaps sooner than they think.

    • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

      Nope. Good riddance. Too bad it’s only for “most nominations” and not all nominations and legislation. It’s time we got rid of America’s handicap and started being a little more nimble. Even if that means situations would arise where we would “need it.” Then America needs to learn quickly what party is producing those “need it” situations and prevent them from controlling the senate. Thereafter, it’s clear sailing, and we can swiftly unclog the drain and start pushing real reforms. Sadly, this only applies to “most” and “nominations.” I wish I could say it was just a start, but this is probably all they’ll do.

      • Tom

        It’s not a handicap, it’s a protection to keep the Senate from pushing through decisions without thinking them through. The House rules are designed to allow the majority to implement it’s will while limiting the minorities power, the Senate rules are implemented not only to increase the minorities power but to give each individual Senator the power to influence the legislation and nomination process. I wouldn’t be so happy that we effectively destroyed one of the rules put in place to prevent the majority from trampling the minority if I were you.

        • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

          “Magic number 60″ is not a rule that prevents the majority from trampling the rights of the minority. If 60 senators want to trample the rights of the minority, they can do it – if the house and president go along with it. And in two years, after America recognizes that sucks, they’ll vote out that party. And then those rights can be restored. It’ll just mean people will have to pay more attention to politics, but we’ll be less restricted to start making badly needed changes that as of now don’t have a chance. And you’ll get to see a greater cause-effect relationship when idiotic politicians tinker with bad policies more frequently. So learn, learn quickly, and forever be greater for it.

          • Tom

            It absolutely was a rule to prevent the majority from trampling the voice of the minority! That is how the Senate rules were designed!!!

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Oh, well maybe it should take 101 senators to break a filibuster then, because 60 senators can still trample the rights of the minority.

            More exclamation points make your argument more correct!!!

          • Tom

            What a half-wit……

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            You give yourself too much credit. If you can’t see how 60 senators taking away minority rights is still the majority trampling the rights of the minority, you’re no wit at all!

            Thus, no number of senators should be allowed to legislate, because “the minority” trampling. Therefore, 101 senators to overcome a filibuster.

          • Tom

            It’s the difference between breaking a filibuster by a supermajority or a simple majority…..it is very rare that one party controls 60 votes in the Senate and that is why 60 was a reasonable number because it would take bipartisan cooperation to break the filibuster of the minority party…so with 60 votes there was no trampling because the minority had to cooperate….half-wit!

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Thanks, but I get the difference, and the reasoning. But that’s not the argument you presented. “Being rare” doesn’t mean a super-majority can’t trample the rights of the minority.

            The filibuster would have been fine if it was used as it was intended. But when instead it’s turned into a weapon whereby the minority can block anything the majority wants to do short of this supermajority, by nothing more than saying you wish to filibuster, then it becomes undemocratic in its abuse. It’s no longer about protecting rights. It’s about petulance. The filibuster has outlived its practical usefulness.

          • Tom

            That absolutely is the argument I presented, and yes a rare supermajority can trample the rights of the minority, one of the rare flaws in our system of government. They have blocked three judges and have justifiable reasoning for doing so (considering the lack of cases facing the circuit courts) and they have also proposed legislation that would shuffle judges that are twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do into courts that have overwhelming caseloads. The filibuster rule of 60 still stands, the only thing that changed is for certain nominations, but that is a step in the wrong direction. Rather than accepting reasonable legislation for a more efficient court system, Reid is forcing more judges into an already overfull system just for the sake of having Democrat judges sitting on lifelong terms. The blocking of judges wasn’t the end the Republicans were looking for, it was a means to having the end result of an efficient court system. And if you break out your history books you’ll see that is the same reason Democrats were blocking Bush judge nominations….blocking nominations to push for a more efficient court system was a good idea then and now…only now the crybaby Reid undermined the whole system and changed the rules to make sure justice doesn’t have a blind eye anymore but a Democrat one.

    • God Bless America

      It was not “packing” These were positions that were open. Please understand the facts.

      • Turning Leaves

        Senator Leahy called it “court packing” back in 2002. Are you saying that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

        • God Bless America

          Filling an empty seat is not “packing “. It is doing what people sent them to Washington to accomplish.

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Can you fill any other type of seat? What is considered packing? Or is that just a negative term applied to the same process?

          • Turning Leaves

            Tell that to Senator Leahy. He’s the one who kept calling Bush’s nominations to the DC Circuit a “court packing scheme.”

          • Douglass Parker

            “Court packing” was tried by FDR. It means expanding the number of seats on a court and then filling the seats with nominees of your choice. Congress rejected that approach. Filling vacant seats is not court packing. If Senator Leahy called it that, he was wrong to do so.

          • Turning Leaves

            Don’t tell me (I already knew that), tell the hypocrital Senator Leahy.

        • sandbun

          And Senator Leahy is the accepted authority about what is considered court packing or not?

          • Turning Leaves

            In his own mind, he is.

          • sandbun

            Well that’s swell, but here in the real world just because Leahy once said something stupid Dems aren’t forever required to pretend that what Leahy said was right.

            If I had a dime for every at least occasionally hypocritical current Senator, I’d have $10.

          • northerncanuck

            But at the time Dems said he was right. What’s changed?

          • sandbun

            What dem said the Leahy was right to call this packing?

            What changed since Republicans said it wasn’t packing the court?

        • mikem42

          Individual Senators can say what they like, but the Democrats didn’t leave the seats empty, they voted on the nominees, and the seats were filled. These candidates deserve an up or down vote, and either party has the right to their appointments. Regardless of party. The obstructionism has been unprecedented the past 5 years.

          • Turning Leaves

            Oh, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee who was trying to make sure the seats DID stay empty until they could be filled by a Democratic President isn’t important. Nice. And no, the obstructionism these last 5 years isn’t unprecedented, regardless of what mindless Democratic partisans say.

          • mikem42

            Opposing nominees because of ideology isn’t the same as just leaving seats empty because you like the balance now. The R’s had no justification, no reason to vote down these last 3 nominees, they just want to thwart any action taken by this administration.

          • Turning Leaves

            Um, that’s exactly what Leahy was doing 11 years ago. So much for your “unprecedented” excuse.

          • mikem42

            You really are so wrong on this. The Dems did vote on the nominees after Leahy’s snit, and the judges were seated. During this latest event, the Republicans refused to allow a vote, and only now will we vote due to the new rules. And, if you can truly support the need for 60 votes instead of just a majority, you should maybe live somewhere other than in a democratic country. If you don’t like the policies of this administration, get candidates with ideas that the public will support by a majority.

          • Turning Leaves

            No, you’re wrong, but you’re too blinded by partisanship to understand that. There have been 36 confirmations so far this year, including 9 to the Circuit Courts. 113 confirmations occured in the last Congress, and 60 in the first Congres. 209 confirmations in President Obama’s first 5 years. Hardly a refusal to allow votes.

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Conversely, half of all the filibusters on appointments in history have occurred within the past 4 1/2 years. Not a sterling reputation for cooperation. It’s time for the filibuster to be nixed. Entirely.

          • Turning Leaves

            Well, if President Obama would not have nominated extremists it wouldn’t have been necessary.

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Well, you know, hard to find moderate jihadists. Death to America! Or whatever other weird slogan fits your fantasy.

    • moreisbetter

      Mcconnell just said that very line “sooner than they think” . He also said the Senate confirmed 250 out of 252, 99%.

      If those #’s don’t show a serious lack of leadership or pay off in the GOP I must be living on Mars. Anyone with that record of failure would have been run out of town as fast this crowd ran Vietnam veteran, not returning home in a box out, of town. rvn70/71

    • MrSmith

      They’re packing the DC Court because they need it to defend the radical regulatory rulings of Obama’s departments. This saves Dems from passing unpopular laws- they can just let the Departments interpret the laws in the unpopular and unreasonable ways their special interest donors want. It’s all- always- about political gain for Harry and his Party. The country be damned.

      • mikem42

        Yeah, radical. Stop the financial institutions from bankrupting the country again, let us have clean air, clean water, safe products, safe workplaces, etc. That is really radical, man!

  • CMP

    They will have no one to blame but themselves when they lose the Senate next year and have to live with the new rules they have voted on.

  • Tom

    This nation just took another step in the direction of becoming an oligarchy….a sad day for all American’s no matter what their political ideology.

    • MrSmith

      Yep, mob rule took a big step forward. It takes an oligarchy to rule a mob.
      And the Dem Disqus Army is shouting how great a thing that is.

      • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

        lol. Is it mob rule or oligarchy rule? Rule by many or few? Can’t be both. Yer funny. With your words. And their lack of proper use.

        • MrSmith

          Wow! Over 7000 comments on Disqus!
          No wonder you’ve never had time to read the Founder’s on how mob rule and oligarchy lead one to the other (eg: Madison’s Notes).
          Well, I’m sure none of your intended audience have either.

          • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

            Hmm, your non-sequitur totally validates your point! Er, somehow… But don’t worry. It’s in there somewhere. So yeah, good point and stuff.

    • HeraSentMe

      Took another step in the direction of being a democracy.

      • Tom

        How is taking the power and funneling it into a smaller group of people a step towards democracy? Now we have a house that is ruled by the speaker and rules committee and a senate that can break a filibuster with a simple majority….that is not a step towards democracy!

        • tpartynitwit

          Having 50+1 decide is better then having Tedious Ted Cruz threaten default all by his maple syrup sucking Canadian self.

        • HeraSentMe

          Obviously you don’t understand the concept of “democracy”.

          Don’t feel bad, though. Most Republicans don’t.

          • Tom

            Well I’m an Independent and please enlighten me on the concept of democracy.

          • HeraSentMe

            It means that when a president and the Senate are controlled by the same party, they get to pick and approve said president’s nominees, and the minority gets to carp and gripe, but not to stop them.

          • Tom

            Ahhh so does that meaning carry over to a Republican controlled Senate and Presidency or is it a one sided thing? See I was confused before because the Constitution put the power of confirming presidential nominations in the Senate as a check on power, it (along with Jefferson’s Manual) also made the Senate a body that enabled the minority party to have substantial leverage on the outcomes of presidential nominations…I guess I should rethink my interpretation of the constitution and Jefferson Manual to match the theme of the ignorant masses that support rule changes that diminish their voice in government….this is a partisan issue from both sides that needs to be compromised on without destroying our system of government that protects the population from a certain few government positions usurping all the power from the rest. This isn’t about Democrat or Republican, it is about important powers being shifted to a smaller portion of our elected officials.

          • HeraSentMe

            Nothing in the Constitution about a minority of Senators being able to thwart the will of the majority.

            That being the case, the basis of your rant is nothing. Much like its contents.

  • Poshboy

    What incredible short-sightedness of the Ds. I’m a uncompromising R who looks forward to repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, but even I know that once we regain the Senate, we’ll certainly lose it again someday. The filibuster rule was one of the few resources available to a Senate minority

    Well, I look forward to the crybaby stories in four years about the Ds complaining about not being able to filibuster President Paul’s “radical” picks for the EPA, Education, Agriculture, Labor, HUD, HHS, and the other wasteful socialist agencies and departments that he’ll wind down and eliminate. I’ll make sure that little violin is playing, too.

    Serves the Ds right–if you want to succeed as a political party, you have to think three moves ahead and not just seek immediate gratification.

    • sandbun

      I think the Dems thought it was crazy to believe that if the Reps ever got control of the Senate they wouldn’t change the rules themselves. If the Tea Party could convince them to shut down the government, then the idea that they couldn’t convince them to get rid of the filibuster seemed unlikely.

    • narnia

      I’m a dem and I think it is only fair that whoever is in the majority has the right to have their nominees voted on. So no I won’t like it if the gop wins, but I won’t regret it either. its time to have a functioning senate!

      • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

        Hear, hear! Besides, the GOP might get the senate in 2 years, but not in 4, and not the White House either. So it’s about time we start being able to govern.

    • colincb

      The Department of Agriculture was enacted by the GOP and signed into law by that notorious socialist Abe Lincoln who called it “The People’s Department” foreshadowing the rise of Socialism that the GOP would spearhead. The DOL was enacted under Taft in 1913, Ike the Red was responsible for Health, Education, and Welfare, which was split into HHS and Education later, and the Red Queen Richard Nixon created the EPA. Thankfully, the only socialist agency the Dems created was HUD,

      Don’t worry about tuning up your violin if you’re backing Paul.

  • captmike

    Foolish and very short sighted on Reid’s part. If (probably) the Dems lose the Senate next year, this will rank right at the top of dumb political moves.

    • HeraSentMe

      That might be true if the Republican Senators would have kept the filibuster in place. As they have shown themselves to be without honor and immune to accusations of hypocrisy, there’s no reason to think that is so.

      A Republican Senate majority (doubtful) means nothing without a Republican president (more doubtful), so your “wait until next time” chest beating means as much as a Republican Senator’s word.

      Nothing.

  • northerncanuck

    They will of course reverse their position when circumstances dictate.

    • sandbun

      I’m not sure which party you’re referring to here, but yes.

  • gator871

    interesting that the act of filibustering to block nominations was perfected by the dems and Reid under the Bush administration. Obama, as a senator, said this nuclear option was a power grab by the GOP back them. Of course Reid was against this option back then also. Now that the filibuster is hurting the dems, all of a sudden it is a bad thing. Dems are hypocrites, for sure. As long as they are in power then lets change the rules to benefit them.

    • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

      “Just heard on NPR: Half of all the filibusters on appointments in history have occurred within the past 4 1/2 years.

      Quote that to anyone who thinks this wasn’t necessary or the GOP was not abusing the process.”

      ~Wynstone@politicalwire.com

      Ask, and ye shall receive. Sorry Gator, your party doesn’t know how to behave responsibly.

      • Tom

        Did you also hear that Republicans have only blocked the appointment of 3 judges and the reasoning was because of the drop in caseloads on the circuit court and they are trying to move the excess judges to where they are needed rather than appoint more judges to sit around and not oversee cases? I know NPR didn’t omitte that info so it’s apparently this pinche pendejo golbez

        • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

          3 judges just for the DC circuit. And it’s not a “workload” concern. It’s a partisan breakdown concern. Also, your misapplied racial assumption is also a good touch.

          • Tom

            Not an assumption, I’m taking a few Spanish courses and have been toying with what can pass into comment sections…and no they didn’t teach us that one, that was extra-curricular.

  • gator871
  • Pat_Loudoun

    Say goodbye to Unanimous Consent. If I were Lee or Cruz, I would oppose naming post offices.

    • http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA0C3C1D163BE880A Golbez

      I would too. Do something more productive or don’t do anything at all.

  • centerroad

    The gop lacks honor, respect, and decency. Their version of democracy if only they are in charge has destroyed this important part of our constitution, minority rights.

    Make no mistake, their unprecedented use of the filibuster, far far surpassing its previous uses in all of our history led directly to the destruction.

    • PeteEllis

      I know that the nuclear option was invoked in the name of efficiency but it should be noted that tyrannies are usually more efficient than democracies. However, many great democracies have an inefficient legislature because everyone gets a say, that by nature is inefficient but worthwhile.

  • spud

    does this not have something to do with Lindsey Graham threatening filibuster on nominees if the senate did not gt the chance to question Americans who were on the ground at Benghazi? He was on TV talking about 2-3 weeks back.

  • spud

    and to add we are losing our system of checks and balance..

  • Siegfried Heydrich

    Hey, you keep poking the bear, and sooner or later the bear will poke back. The GOP finally poked once too often.

  • Emily Hinkle Beustring

    I’m just wondering. Do y’all realize that only 12 of the clotures for nomination during Obama’s administration have been invoked? 4 of those 12 were later confirmed. Also, do you realize that the Senate only used majority vote to change the rule? Senate broke the rules to change the rules. NIIIIiice!

    …and do you also realize that 38 clotures for nomination were invoked during the Bush administration? But, oh no!…the Republicans are the non-bending ones even though many of their clotures were withdrawn

  • George Allegro

    As Adam Ferguson noted, “nations [and individuals] stumble upon establishments which are the result of human action but are not the result of human design”.

  • Defend Liberty

    If free markets are to work well, respectable moral and legal principles must be in place to guide separate competitors in the marketplace.

Sign In

Forgot password?

Or

Subscribe

Receive daily coverage of the people, politics and personality of Capitol Hill.

Subscription | Free Trial

Logging you in. One moment, please...