Obama voices support for Senate action

McClatchy Washington BureauNovember 21, 2013 


President Barack Obama gestures while speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting in Washington. Obama answered questions on the economy, the problems with the new health care law roll out, immigration reform, and negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program.


President Barack Obama voiced support Thursday for the Senate's vote to invoke the so-called nuclear option and help confirm his nominees, despite the opposition of Republicans.

"It's no secret that the American people have probably never been more frustrated with Washington, and one of the reasons why that 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," he said in brief comments to reporters at the White House. "Today's pattern of obstruction just isn't normal. We can't allow it to become normal."

Obama's remarks came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid implemented the "nuclear option" to alter chamber rules to restrict the filibuster of judicial and executive branch nominees.

Reid, D-Nev., said a string of blocked presidential and judicial nominations highlighted the need to change the Senate's long-standing rules on nominations from a 60-vote threshold to a majority-rules system.

Obama said Senate rules no longer work and that the filibuster is no longer used as a responsible way to govern. "It's used as a reckless...tool to grind...business to a halt."

"This isn't obstruction on substance, on qualifications. It's just to gum up the works," he said, and it causes "gridlock" in the criminal and civil justice systems.

"What's at stake is the ability of any president to fulfill his or her constitutional duty," Obama said. "If you've got a majority of folks who believe in something, then it should be able to pass."

Obama, a former senator, did not answer any questions. But he said the Senate has used rules to block a bill to curb gun violence, provide women equal pay and an immigration overhaul.

"Enough is enough. The American people's business is far too important to keep falling prey to Washington politics," Obama said. "A deliberate...effort to obstruct everything no matter the merits, just to re-fight the results of an election, is not normal."

Obams said that in the few decades before he took office that about 20 nominees were filibustered. But since he took office, close to 30 judicial and political nominees have had their nominations blocked.

In recent weeks, Senate Democrats have been unable to overcome filibusters on the nominations of Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency - the first time a sitting member of Congress was blocked since 1843 - and three nominees to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Reid railed against Republican filibusters against the nominations of former Rep. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for defense secretary. Hagel was eventually confirmed.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Reid's move, calling it a Democratic power grab in order to implement President Barack Obama's agenda. Reid and McConnell accused each other of violating an agreement they reached last July to avert a "nuclear option" move.

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