On Thursday, Senate Democrats announced they would enact the so-called “nuclear option,” meaning it now takes only a simple majority of 51 votes to approve presidential judicial and executive nominees, effectively blocking a filibuster of those individuals.
"Today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't normal," President Obama said in response. "I support the step a majority of senators today took to change the way that Washington is doing business."
But did he always feel that way? Not exactly.
Critics are right when they point out Obama has flipped on this issue. Here he is speaking on the Senate floor in 2005:
Funny thing is, leading Senate Republicans have flip-flopped, too.
“I think the president is entitled to an up-or-down ― that is simple majority ― vote on nominations, both to his Cabinet and to the executive branch and also to the judiciary," Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader,said back in 2005 when Senate Republicans contemplated deploying the nuclear option after President Bush’s nominees were being stalled. "… Presidents trying to mold the Supreme Court is nothing new. It's not inappropriate. And we need to get back to tradition, and the tradition is a majority is enough to confirm a judge.”
The nuclear option first arose during George W. Bush’s presidency after some of his more ideologically conservative judicial nominees were being blocked by Senate Democrats. There was also a sharp increase in the amount of time it took nominees to get approved ― skyrocketing from just 34 days under President Reagan to 277 days under Bush, according to the Congressional Research Service. That gap has largely held for Obama, with his nominees waiting 225.5 days from the day they are nominated until they are confirmed.
The nuclear option was avoided in 2005 when seven Democrats and seven Republicans formed the “Gang of 14” in order to assure Bush’s less controversial judicial nominees would receive up or down votes.
The bottom line: fillibuster-proofing the Senate during presidential nominations is something both parties have wanted at various times. The Democrats just shot first.
Still, McConnell expressed outrage on Thursday.
“Some of us have been around here long enough to know that the shoe is sometimes on the other foot. You may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McConnell said. “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election in 2014.”