Why Harry Reid Needed to Invoke the 'Nuclear Option'

Citing some surprising statistics, Juliet Lapidos explains why Harry Reid ultimately invoked the ‘nuclear option’:

  • Lapidos measures the increase in frequency of filibusters by comparing the number of cloture motions filed to break a filibuster: 68 motions during the 109th Congress, 139 motions in the 110th Congress, 111 motions in the 111th Congress and 115 motions in the 112th Congresss.
  • 3 in 10 of all cloture motions filed in the history of the Senate were filed under Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s tenure.
  • Republicans have filibustered a record number of executive branch nominees: 27 under President Obama.
  • For the first time ever, Republicans filibustered a nominee for Secretary of Defense.
  • The average waiting time for non-controversial judicial nominees has increased from 70 days during the Reagan administration, to almost 7 months for Obama.
FavoriteLoadingSave to Favorites
  • dectra

    STILL waiting for those GOP “constitutionalists” like dirt-bag Scalia (or his meat puppet Thomas) to explain exactly WHERE in the Constitution it says you can
    filibuster in the first place….

    • It’s not in the Constitution, it’s in the Senate rules. And by Constitutional law, the Senate gets to set its own rules of debate.

      But I think people have forgotten what the filibuster/cloture rules are all about. The DEFAULT rule for the Senate is that any Senator must be allowed to speak on any bill for as long as they want. The belief here is that open debate is the best way to get good results, and that all opinions need to be heard. But there was a gentlemen’s agreement that this would not be abused.

      • Lorehead

        There hasn’t been any requirement to actually debate since 1975.

        • Actually, Lore, there is. The rules established in the 1970s allowed the Senate, with the consent of the Majority leader, to put a filibustered measure on a ‘side track’ to allow the Senate to continue conducting business during a threatened filibuster. But note that this is with the consent of the majority leader. If Reid does not consent, then the current legislation remains on the floor, and debate must continue.

          I’m sure there are some arcane rules about this, else we would be having filibusters all the time on the Senate floor. I’m just not sure what mechanism is allow us to avoid them.

          • Lorehead

            Citation? I don’t see that in Rule XXII of the Senate.

          • It’s in Rule XIX, but it requires interpretation:


            At the conclusion of the morning hour at the beginning of a new legislative day or after the unfinished business or any pending business has first been laid before the Senate on any calendar day, and until after the duration of three hours of actual session after such business is laid down except as determined to the contrary by unanimous consent or on motion without debate, all debate shall be germane and confined to the specific question then pending before the Senate.

            By this rule, the majority leader (who sets the agenda) can place the filibustered issue under debate and, by denying a vote on unanimous consent or motion without debate, keep that as the ONLY business to come before the Senate. At that point, all debate has to be about that single issue.

          • Lorehead

            But it’s the side that wants to break the filibuster that has to actually show up. So I don’t think they actually have to talk to block a vote.

          • It is indeed the side that wants to break the filibuster that has to make sure there are enough Senators nearby to respond to a quorum call. But the side that votes to continue debate would look pretty stupid if they then didn’t continue the debate. Can you imagine McConnell explaining why the GOP is holding up Senate business in order to continue debate on a bill for which they have nothing to say?
            Not that looking stupid in the eyes of the American people has ever stopped them in the past.

          • Lorehead

            Eh, there are a bunch of things they could do, other than talk, such as object to the lack of a quorum, or propose amendments.

      • Funny, I read the rules and couldn’t find any mention of this ‘gentlemen’s agreement’, or any mention that the filibuster was only designed for ‘exceptional circumstances.’ I did find some slave holding Democrats from the 1800’s making the same arguments you made here (Henry Clay), but no one accepted them then, no one bought them 100 years later, and even the Democrats argued against this version of the truth several years ago.

        Make up more stuff though, eventually you might convince the sheep on here of it.

        • And I have found lots of conservatives who seem to think that a rule designed to make sure everyone got a chance to have their say was actually there to give the minority party the power to obstruct all business of the Senate. I certainly hope that you are not really a teacher, given that you seem to think everything worth knowing about history has to be written in a manual.

        • philsci

          a “gentleman’s agreement” would be a side understanding, not something codified

Read previous post:
Reactions to Invoking the Nuclear Option

Jonathan Chait:  "The main reason for this odd, partial clawback of the filibuster is that President Obama has no real...