Reid Goes Nuclear on Filibusters

Ding Dong, the Filibuster Is Dead

In a high-stakes vote this morning, Senate Democrats drastically cut Republicans' ability to block federal appointments, evoking the so-called nuclear option in a 52-48 vote.

11.21.13 4:49 PM ET


The Senate just went nuclear. On Thursday morning, Majority Leader Harry Reid secured an unprecedented fix to the chamber's rules that will drastically change how the Senate considers nominees. The so-called nuclear option eliminates the use of the filibuster on all presidential appointments save those to the Supreme Court and ending what has become a de facto requirement of a 60-vote super majority.

In remarks on the floor, Reid bemoaned what he described as the gridlock in Washington and proclaimed: "The Senate is a living thing, to survive it must change." The majority leader went on to describe what he characterized as unprecedented Republican obstruction to the Obama administration's nominees. As examples, Reid cited Republican opposition to three nominees to D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most important federal appellate courts. 

After a series of procedural votes, the Senate finally voted to change the rules, which was accomplished by appealing a ruling of the Senate parliamentarian, by a vote of 52-48. All 45 Republicans were opposed, along with three Democrats: Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Pryor (D-AR).

Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate Republicans, had dismissed the move as a "fake fight" designed to distract the attention of the American people from the failures of Obamacare. He almost seemed to dare Reid to start the parliamentary process to end the filibuster, saying 'We’re not interested in having a gun being put to our head any longer," referencing repeated Democratic threats to do this in the past. 

While a number of Democratic senators have long been in favor of filibuster reform, Reid and other senior Democrats have long been wary of the consequences of "going nuclear," which would be the biggest Senate rules change in decades. However, it seems mounting frustration over what Reid described as the Senate "wasting an unprecedented amount of time on procedural hurdles and partisan obstruction" has overcome these reservations.