Obama on Senate 'Nuclear Option': Public Service is Not a Game, It's a Privilege"

President Obama delivers remarks on historic vote by senate to change filibuster rulings.
16:32 | 11/21/13

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Transcript for Obama on Senate 'Nuclear Option': Public Service is Not a Game, It's a Privilege"
This is a special -- Report from ABC. I'm tired and is in New York this is an ABC news digital special reports senate Democrats have gone no clear. -- the Republican minority of its filibuster powers clearing the way for the confirmation. At least three judicial appointees. We've heard from the senators and now it is president Obama's term we've -- a two minute warning. He will attend the white house press briefing room to talk about the decision but before the president makes his statement. We want debris in Devin Dwyer in Washington DeVon. Big -- today the senate. Tell us about it. That's our -- this was a pretty significant change in the history of the United States senate these things do not happen often we've. Approach this line several occasions over the past few years but as you said. Senate majority leader Harry Reid did pull the trigger today on an -- -- what basically we're talking about here is they've changed the rule. For how the filibuster will work in the case of some -- nominations the president of the United States is nominations that need to be approved by the senate. But normally those -- be subject to a filibuster and needing to meet that sixty vote threshold will today. The senate approved a rule change which now means that in most of those cases. They'll only need a simple majority of 51 votes it will make it a lot easier in those cases to get things through both sides. Have debated this for years and today that change has been made. All right we have that ABC's -- felony with us and Jeff I want to ask you why now for Harry Reid. Actually Jeff I'm -- we could -- policy the resident here. People. Probably never been more frustrate -- Washington and one of the reasons. Why that is is that over the past five years we've seen an unprecedented. Pattern obstruction of congress. That's prevented too much of the American people's business from getting them. All too often we've seen a single senator or a handful of senators. Choose to abuse arcane procedural tactics to unilaterally block bipartisan compromises. Or. To prevent well qualified patriotic Americans from going critical positions of public service in our system. Government. Now at a time when millions of Americans. Desperately searched for work. Repeated abuse of these tactics. Have blocked legislation that might create jobs. They've defeated actions that would help women fighting for equal pay. -- prevented. More progress than we would've liked for striving young immigrants. Trying to. Earn their citizenship. Or it's blocked efforts to end tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas. -- they've even been used to block common sense and why would support steps to protect. More Americans from gun violence even as families of victims that -- senate -- watched. And that -- far too -- -- -- Americans -- serving their country at a time when their country music tells the most. It's harmed our economy. And -- been harmful to our democracy. And it's brought us to the point where. A simple majority vote. No longer seems to be sufficient for any. Even routine business through what is supposed to be the world's greatest deliberative body. I realize that neither party. Has been blameless. For these tactics. They've developed over years and it seems is that they are continually -- -- -- -- escalated. But today's patter obstruction. It just is -- normal. That's not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct every no matter what the -- Just to refight the results of an election. It's not normal and for the sake of future generations we can't let it become wrong. So. I support staff a majority of senators today it took to change the way. That Washington. Is doing business more specifically the way the senate does business. What a majority of senators determined. By senate rule is that. They would restore the long standing tradition of considering judicial. And public service nominations on a more routine basis. And here's why this is important. -- one of -- president's constitutional responsibilities is to nominate Americans to positions within the executive and judicial branches. Over the six decades before I took office. Only -- presidential nominees to executive positions have to overcome filibusters. In just under five years since I took office nearly thirty nominees have been treated this way. These are all public servants who protect our national security work out for working families people -- air and water clean. This year alone for the first time in history senate Republicans filibustered a president's nominee for secretary of defense. We used to be a former Republican senator. They tried everything they could -- -- our EPA administrator. They blocked. Our nominee for our top housing regulator at a time when we need more help more families. To afford a home and prevent what. Has caused more mortgage meltdowns from happening again. And in each of these cases it's not been because. They opposed the person. That there was some assessment that they were unqualified that there was some scandal. That had been on -- It was simply because they oppose the policies that the American people voted for in the last election. That's obstruction gets even worse when it comes to the -- this year. The constitution charges the president with filling vacancies to the federal -- Every president has exercised this power says George Washington first name justices to the Supreme Court in seventy and 89. But my judicial nominees have waited nearly two and a half times longer to receive yes or no votes on the senate floor than those of President Bush. The ones who -- actually do get a vote generally. Are confirmed what little if any dissent so. This isn't obstruction. On substance. On qualifications. As just a gum up the works. Gridlock in congress causes gridlock in much of our criminal and civil justice systems. You've seen. Judges across the country including. Bush appointed. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court say these are vital vacancies that need to be -- And in. This gridlock has not serve the cause of justice in fact is undermined it. Over the past three weeks. Senate Republicans again denied a yes or no vote on three highly qualified Americans to fill three vacancies on the nation's second highest court. Even though they have the support. For the majority of senators. Four of President Bush's six nominees to this court were confirmed four out of five of my nominees to this court. Have been -- So to vote today I think it's an indication that a majority of senators believe as I believe that enough is enough. American people's business is far too important. To keep falling prey day after day. To. Washington politics. I'm a former senator so my vice president we both value. Any senate's duty. To advise and consent it's important that we take very very seriously. But. You know refused to treat that duty of advise and consent. With the respect it deserves. It's no longer used in a responsible way to govern. It's rather used as very. Reckless and relentless tool to -- all business to a halt and that's not what our founders' intent and certainly not what our country needs right there. And and -- just -- or minor but what's at stake here is not my ability. To fulfill my constitutional -- What's at stake is the ability of any president to fulfill his or her constitutional -- In -- public service is not a game it is a privilege and the consequences of action or inaction. Are very real. The American people deserve better. The politicians. Who run for election telling them how terrible. Government is and then devoting their time in elected office to try to make government not work. As often as possible. I want to be clear the senate has actually done some good bipartisan work this year. Bipartisan majorities of past common sense legislation to fix our broken immigration system upgrade our courts. Our ports. It's past a farm bill that helps rural communities and vulnerable Americans. That's legislation that would protect Americans from being fired based on their sexual orientation so. We know that there are folks -- Republican and Democrat who want to get things done. And frankly privately they've expressed to me their recognition that the system in the senate have broken down. And what used to be a sporadic. Exercise of the filibuster has gotten completely out of him. I believe. I'm confident that that spirit will have a little more space now. I want us to make sure that we can do more work together to grow the economy and -- great jobs. And a third differences in the senate. And debate should be had. People should vote their conscience. They should vote on behalf of their constituents. But they should vote. That's what they're there to do. And ultimately. If you got a majority of folks. Who believe in something that I should be overpass. Americans were -- they do their jobs and they expect the same. From everybody who got sector and as long as I have privileges. Being in this office -- people who as ours I know how to make sure that the economy is growing and creating good jobs were widening prosperity and opportunity. For everybody and I know that's that's what the majority of folks in the senate believe as well. But the gears of government have to work. And the stuff that the majority of senators are today. I think will help. Make those group gears work just -- it -- Thanks very much -- And now Josh will answer all your questions. -- -- There. Even -- President Obama make a brief statement in the White House briefing room about the senate rule changes and being filibusters. For executive branch nominees and we still have. -- -- -- felony and Devin Dwyer with us to respond Jeff I was about to ask you. About these rule changes they just involved executive branch nominees so this doesn't change filibuster rules on legislation correct. That is correct it's not on legislation it's on executive branch nominees and nominees to the federal judiciary excluding the Supreme Court -- that is a big point here. We asked senator Harry Reid about that just a few minutes ago and he said that he thought the Supreme Court would be a bridge too far. That is a such a prominent position those positions don't come up very often you know not to nearly as much as -- vacancies on the on the federal court so it does not. Included the us Supreme Court one interesting I think about at a press conference -- to suffer the president was he noted that he was a senator. The Vice President Biden was a senator and they have seen this hole in 2005 it. Then Senator Obama spoke out against this he said that this would be a bad move for. The -- do this Harry Reid did the same thing in 2005 when Republicans controlled the senate -- would be a dark chapter in the history of the senate. So we asked Terry read about that a little bit ago and he said. Look it is a dark chapter in the history of the senate things have gotten so bad here. We are willing to you -- take our hits on this and we're willing to lose some nominees going forward the next time there's a Republican in the White House willing to lose those things. If it means that the obstruction. Is lifted a little bit here in the senate time. Okay. And DeVon is there a sense that it was so bad obviously this is a risky move -- if they find themselves in the minority which they may. They have to abide by the same rules which would which would hamper them at that point you know the president shot out some statistics it's taking a lot longer for his nominees than in the past. And more of his nominees are being filibustered. Is it considered obviously was considered worth that by the president and Harry -- take -- -- That's right -- -- -- -- just talk about I think they they have been making the argument that this is really an unprecedented time of gridlock that they. Felt they needed to shake it up -- -- The vacancies now on the court are significant. Both sides agreed that -- independent groups that have looked at this say there aren't they are significant 93 vacancies on the federal courts right now. 39 of those are considered. Federal judicial emergencies meaning that those positions have been vacant for over a year in the backlogs are piling up on cases there. Now we should say that President Obama was very slow. To nominate people for a lot of these positions when he took office there's really bend that that point is glossed over by the White House. To some of that responsibility for this buildup of vacancies is on him. However that being said the senate as he talked about there has blocked a great number of these vacancies and today we saw that logjam. Broken right after they change the rules the senate did approve one of these judges for the DC Circuit Court time. All right and -- that at seven said we saw this work almost immediately as the remedy that Democrats had hoped for but. Senate Republicans not very happy we had Mitch McConnell take to the senate floor he called it a sad day and he also switched gears a little bit let's have a listen. I've been looking to change -- subject. -- the subject. Justice -- senate Democrats have been doing -- their threats of going nuclear and changing the senate rules. On nomination. Our senator from Oregon for example. Which has enrolled a single person. -- single person. For the obamacare exchange. Probably want to talk about something else to. All right so Jeff. -- Republicans there Mitch McConnell changing the subject himself talking about Obama care. This isn't expected to knock that out of the headlines have at least no not -- -- more than temporarily. I mean because I think at the end of today the nuclear option is something that is significant in fact it is a historic change today in the senate rules but. It is not affecting people's day to day lives like the Affordable Care Act but. Republicans are trying to tie it together and senator Mitch McConnell he called it a power -- and he compared -- directly to the Affordable Care Act to obamacare. If you will going -- on this but. It is. After a deep breath -- taken here and after. You know some of these nominees sort of moved through not all Republicans think this is such a -- Terrible idea because they note that at some point they are likely to be sitting in the -- White House. And they are going to have an easy time of this as well so other hazards -- -- would -- the obstruction. Has gotten very intense and both sides are. Are. To blame here neither side is blameless. And I think Terry -- been pretty. I'm up front about that he said neither of our hands are clean here in this so. -- you know a lot of senator traditions going by the wayside but. At the end of the day the Obama administration can -- get away from the Affordable Care Act they can maybe change the subject for a few minutes but I think that's about it time. -- BC's -- felony and -- Myron thank you so much for joining us the president weighing in today's decision by senate Democrats to use the so called nuclear option. To clear the way for judicial nominees more what that means -- what comes next right here on abcnews.com. This has been an ABC news digital special report on time Hernandez New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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