President Obama on Thursday backed the Senate's decision to trigger the “nuclear option” and change its filibuster rules, saying it was necessary to stop the Republican Party's “pattern of obstruction.”
“I support the step a majority of senators took to change the way Washington is doing business, more specifically the way the Senate is doing business,” said Obama in a statement delivered from the White House.
“The vote today I think is an indication that a majority of senators believe, as I believe, that enough is enough,” the president added.
Obama's remarks came after the Senate voted to change its filibustering rules, limiting the ability of Republicans to block all judicial and executive nominees other than to the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., triggered the nuclear option after Republicans blocked a number of Obama nominees, including Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., tapped to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and a trio named to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s not a secret that the American people have probably never been more frustrated with Washington and one of the reasons why it 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,” said Obama.
“All too often we’ve seen a single senator or a handful of senators abuse arcane procedural tactics to unilaterally block bipartisan compromises or prevent well-qualified, patriotic Americans from filling critical positions,” he added.
Obama said those actions had blocked efforts to pass jobs legislation, help ensure women in the workplace receive equal pay, and tighten gun control.
“I realize that neither party has been blameless for these tactics, they’ve developed over years and it seems as if they’ve continually escalated, but today’s pattern, it just isn’t normal. It isn’t what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything no matter the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal. And for the sake of future generations we can’t let it become normal,” said Obama.
Under prior Senate rules, the chamber needed 60 votes to break a filibuster and advance a nominee. But with the rule change, Democrats can advance the president’s nominees with a 51-vote majority.
Ahead of the 52-48 vote on Thursday, Reid argued from the floor that he was forced into acting to prevent the Senate from becoming “obsolete.”
“Can anyone say the Senate is working right now?” asked Reid. “I don’t think so.”
But Republicans were quick to slam the move, and said it would only hurt bipartisan relations in the Senate and warning of repercussions.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the vote that Democrats would “come to regret” the change. “You may regret it a lot sooner than you think,” he added.
Shortly after changing the chamber’s rules, the Senate voted 55-43 to advance the nomination of Patricia Millett, one of the filibustered judicial nominees, to the D.C. Circuit Court bench.
The filibuster-rule change will likely assure the confirmation of Watt to FHFA and Vice Chair Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve.
Obama said that the use of filibusters to block his nominees had been unprecedented.
“This year alone, for the first time in history, Senate Republicans filibustered a president's nominee for the Secretary of Defense, who used to be a former Republican senator,” said Obama, citing Chuck Hagel, who was eventually confirmed for the top Pentagon post. Obama also mentioned efforts to block the confirmation of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The president added that his judicial nominees had waited on average “nearly two and a half times longer to receive 'yes' or 'no' votes on the Senate floor than those of [former] President [George W.] Bush.”
Obama said the obstruction was not on “substance, on qualifications; it’s just to gum up the works.”
Vice President Joe Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, earlier in the day also said that he backed Reid's push to change the filibuster rules.
This story was published at 2:21 p.m. and has been updated.