Sen. Reid: Change Filibuster Rules Before Senate is 'Obsolete'

Senate debates merits of striking down long-standing rules that could end filibusters.
3:00 | 11/21/13

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Transcript for Sen. Reid: Change Filibuster Rules Before Senate is 'Obsolete'
This is a special group. Hello I'm tired and is in New York this ABC news digital special report going nuclear in the senate. Majority leader Harry Reid says he is considering making some big changes to longstanding rules do you ever fired sixty votes rather than a simple majority to get business done in the upper chamber. At issue today -- number of White House nominees. Confirmations being -- by the Republican minority let's listen and officers Harry Reid. So confident that -- No one knows problem world. Presiding officer. -- president the American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction good -- The American people Democrats. Republicans. Independents. Are fed up with this gridlock for destruction. The American people want Washington to work for American families once again. This president I'm on their side. Which is why proposed an important change the rules -- United States senate. The present Republican leader himself said and this is a direct. The senate has repeatedly change of rules as circumstances dictate close quote. He's right. In fact the senate is -- patrols eighteen times. By sustaining -- -- the ruling applying officer in the last 36 years. During the ten years of both Republican and democratic majorities. The change we propose today what -- executive and judicial nominations. An up or down vote. On confirmation. Yes no. The rule change will make -- for all nominations cover -- Supreme Court. Majority threshold vote. Yes or no. The senate is a living time. To survive it must change as -- happens. Over the history of this great country. The average American. Adapting the rules to make the -- working on -- just common sense. This is not about Democrats first Republicans. There's about making Washington work regardless of who -- in the White House are who controls the senate. To remain relevant and effective as an institution in the senate must evolve to meet the challenges of this modern era. I have no doubt my Republican colleagues argue the fault is ours the Democrats for. I can say from experience. That no one's hands -- entirely clean on this issue. -- containing important distinction is not between Democrats and Republicans. It's between those who are willing to help break the gridlock in Washington and those who defend the status quo. He -- the senate working now can anyone say that senators are working now I don't think so. Today Democrats and independents are saying. Enough is enough. Changed. The rules regarding presidential nominee -- will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans during power these changes will apply to them just as well that mr. present is simple fairness. And it's something both sides should be willing to live with make Washington work -- that's simple for our north you have -- form. Dave Merkel called world. Sir Alexander. Republican leader instant that the form called punishment to a zone -- -- who. For the past several weeks the American people have been witnessed one of the most breathtaking breathtaking indictments. A big government liberalism and memory. And I'm not just talking about a web site. I'm talking about the way in which obamacare was forced on the public -- administration. And a democratic led congress that we now know was willing to do and say any cut any -- to pass the law. The president is democratic -- were so determined. The force their vision of health care on the public that they assure them up and down. That they would lose the plans they that they save money and losing out. And that they'd be able to use the doctors and hospitals. They were party used. But of course we know that that rhetoric just doesn't match. Reality. And the stories we're -- nearly daily basis now range from heart breaking the -- Just yesterday. Saw a story about a guy getting a letter in the mail saying his dog. -- doll. Had qualified for insurance. Under obamacare. So yeah I'd probably be running for the exit to provide support of -- -- I've been looking to change of subject. Kinds -- subject. Justice senator senate Democrats have been doing -- threats of going nuclear and changing the senate rules. On nomination. Our senator from -- for example. Which has enrolled a single person. -- single person. For the Obama care exchange. Probably wanna talk about something else to. But here's the problem -- this latest distraction. It doesn't distract people from obamacare it reminds. Now all obamacare. It reminds them of all the broken promises. It reminds them of the power ground. It reminds them of the way Democrats that I won several -- themselves. And another. For everybody else. One set -- rules for the -- And another for everybody else. Actually this -- all. Basically the -- debate. And rather than distract people from obamacare it only reinforces the narrative. Of a party that is willing to do and say just about any -- -- -- -- -- Willing to do or say just about any -- To get its work. The goes that's just what they're doing. All over again. Once again senate Democrats are threatening to break the rules of the flat out. Write the rules of the senate. In order to change the rules of the senate. And over while. Over what. Over -- court that doesn't even have enough work to do. Millions of Americans are hurting because of a law Washington Democrats forced upon them. And what do they do about that. They cook up some fake fight over judges. A fake fight over judges. That aren't even native. Look I get out. As I indicated that I want to be talking about something else to -- had to defend dogs getting insurance while millions of Americans lost Blair. But it won't work. And the parallels between this latest skirmish on the original obamacare push. Are just too obvious to ignore. Think about it. Just like about it. Majority leader promised. -- problems. Over. And over again. That he wouldn't break the rules of the senate and -- to change them. This was not an -- promised. -- -- court date they'll Meet the Press. Sure we're not touch and judges. This year July -- Meet the Press we're not -- and judges. Then there are the double standard. When Democrats were -- in -- -- They argued strenuously for the very thing they now say. We will have to do without. Namely the right to extended debate on lifetime appointment. In other words they believe it wants federal rules -- -- to valve. -- down. And another -- everybody else. He may have just as well -- said if you like the rules of the senate you can get them. -- -- Feel like the rules of the senate didn't get them. Just -- -- so many Democrats and administration and congress now believe that obamacare is good enough for their constituents. But then when it comes to -- their political -- they're -- well of course that's different. And let's not forget about the raw power. The -- power at play here. On this point the similarities between the obamacare debate and the democratic threat to go nuclear on nominations are inescapable. Inescapable. They muscled through obamacare on a party line vote and didn't care about the views of the Menard didn't care one -- About the -- -- the minority. And that's just about what they're -- -- do here. The American people decided to give the Democrats. Not to give the Democrats the house. Order restored filibuster proof majority they had been sent it back and 209. And -- democratic colleagues don't like that one bill. They just don't like to. The American people are getting in the way. -- what they'd like to do. So they try to change the rules of the game. To get their way anyway. They said so themselves earlier this year the senior senator from New -- they want to fill up the DC circuit. One way or the other. Developed -- -- -- circuit one way. Or the other. And the reason is clear. As one liberal activist put it earlier this year president Obama's agenda run through the DC circuit. Can't get what you want through the congress because the American people in November 2 point. -- they'd had enough they issued a national restraining order after watching two years of this administration. On restrained. So now there -- run through the bureaucracy and through the -- sure. As -- -- in short unlike the first two years of the Obama administration there's now legislative checked. On the pros and and the administration doesn't much like checks and balances. -- -- wants to circumvent the people's representatives with an aggressive regulatory agenda. And our democratic colleagues want to facilitate -- -- filling up a court that will rule on his agenda. Accord that doesn't even have enough work to do especially if it means changing the subject. From obamacare for a few dollars. And get this. They think they can change the rules of the senate and a way that benefits. Only -- out. They want to do it in such a way that president Obama's agenda gets enacted. But that official Republican president couldn't get his or her picks for the Supreme Court. Confirmed by a Republican senate using the same president our democratic friends want to -- out. Further want to have it both ways. But the sort of gerrymandered vision of the nuclear option is really just wishful thinking. As the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee senator Grassley pointed out. Yesterday. The majority leader changes the rules for some judicial nominees -- effectively changing them for all judicial nominees including the Supreme Court. As senator Grassley pointed out just -- -- -- -- sort of wishful thinking might appeal to the uninitiated newcomers and a democratic conference who served exactly zero days in the minority. The rest of you guys in the conference should know better. Those -- been in the minority before should know -- let's remember. How we got here. Let's remember that it was senate Democrats who pioneered. Who literally pioneered. The practice of filibustering Circuit Court nominees. And who Bennett's biggest proponents in the very recent past. After President Bush was elected. They even held a retreat in which they discussed the need to change the ground rules by which lifetime appointments are considered. The senior senator from New York. Put on a seminar. Invited large drop. Cast on thing. In the past the practice had been neither side had filibustered Circuit Court nomination I'm fact I can remember -- senator -- Insistence gagging several times in voting cloture. On circuit judges. To the ninth circuit. Knowing full well that wants cloture was invoked. -- be confirmed so this. Business of filibustering Circuit Court judges was entirely an invention of the guys oh here on the other side to wonder look at -- here. They made it up. They started it. And this is where we ended up. After President Bush was elected. They held -- retreat that I was just talking about. They made a big deal about. It was all preclude the what follow the serial filibustering of several of President Bush's Circuit Court nominees including Miguel Estrada up. Whose nomination to the DC circuit was filibustered by senate Democrats a record seven time. Seven. And now they want to blow up the rules because Republicans are following oppressed and they themselves. And I might -- were following that Preston and a much more modest way. Then Democrats. So how about this for a suggestion. How about instead of picking a fight with senate Republicans by jamming through nominees to a court. The doesn't even have -- -- work to do. How about taking yes for an answer working without -- filling judicial emergencies. That actually exist. Yet rather learn from past precedent. -- judicial nominations that they themselves. Democrats now -- set another world. I've no doubt that if they do they will come to regret that one. As well. Our colleagues. Evidently -- would rather live for the moment. Satisfy the moment look for the moment. And try to establish a story -- that Republicans are intent on obstructing president Obama's judicial nominees. That story line is patently. Ridiculous. In light of the fact. Utterly absurd suggestion in light of the facts. Before this current democratic gambit to fill up the DC circuit one way or the other. The senate had confirmed 215250. Game. Of the president's judicial nominees and rejected true. -- -- -- -- Confirmation right. 215 confirmed and two. -- -- -- -- Look give advise and consent is to mean any thing at all occasionally consent -- not give. But by any objective standard. Senate Republicans. I've been very very fair to this problem. We've been willing to confirm his nomination. In fact they can of the DC circuit we just. And there are watching you -- senator Mitch McConnell on the senate floor responding to. An option presented by senate majority leader Harry Reid the so called nuclear option. It comes to filibuster rules in the -- we're joined now from Capitol Hill might ABC news senior Washington correspondent Jeff felony. -- just a little bit earlier we heard Harry Reid arguing there's a big problem in terms of nominees that they are being held up they're not getting through he's. Suggested. Some rule changes to address that but this problem. It is not new or unique to this administration and -- of nominees so so what's the issue and -- now. -- -- why this issue is not -- -- this administration. Has got a little worse the -- Blocking of judicial nominees and other executive branch has gotten a little bit worse index. In this White House but but let's back up a little bit the issue mainly is this right now in the senate. The minority party the Republican Party has. The power to block any president's. Nominations by. Simply requiring sixty votes to be taken to approve a nominee -- it's a judge appointment if it's a nominee to the a cabinet or to work anywhere it. I'm throughout the government sixty votes are needed what Harry Reid is saying right now is look this is. -- -- root of the of obstructionism we're going to try and change the rules to only say that a simple majority 51 votes are needed to confirm a president's. -- -- Nominee to the accord or executive branch the reasons the big -- -- that breaks the filibuster it takes away the power of the minority party to. Hold something up so the reason it's. You know being discussed now. Called the nuclear option -- -- is the last ditch effort to. Try and change senate rules here so it has implications ago. Well beyond nests from sunset sums senate Democrats excuse -- are worried that. If Republicans ever win control of the senate certainly a possibility. That -- they won't have these are rules as well and Democrats will be at a disadvantage but. Here -- -- that was -- and he said look neither party has their hands clean. Both parties have done this but he believes the obstructionism is so deep and so entrenched it's time to change the senate rules time. So ten Harry Reid it do this unilaterally. What is required to change these -- and would it be justified of the nominees. But he has to call for a vote -- it would take a vote of 51 Republican members of the senate -- 51 Democrats to vote. To change the senate rules so he believes he has 51 Democrats. To change these rules. And it is so it would -- for executive branch nominees that means you know someone who is an ambassador -- cabinet member or someone who works through the government requires confirmation as well as a judicial nominees so at the there aren't any Supreme Court vacancies right now but. It would apply to that as well so. This is more than just stay a one time change this is viewed as a serious. Change in the rules of the senate -- that he can't do -- unilaterally yes to have votes. And as bad as I watch right now -- -- via votes look like they're about to begin. To get this process under way. OK and this would be a permanent -- -- I have to be changed back. Some points a permanent changes until it would be changed again. But it really would. Once something like this is change -- it really does open the door to making it very hard to change it back. And if Republicans win control the senate next time. There would have no impetus or no. A real interest in changing it back because it is good for the the a party in power here so it's I'm a bit inside baseball a lot of inside baseball but important city. I traditions and -- the rules of the senate. The make the senate different from the House of Representatives they'd give the minority party more of -- -- and the filibuster has been used so much over. History this really is a big deal in the history and the -- -- traditions of the senate. So again. -- this is a risky move why now for Harry Reid he seems to think it's a very big issue that there's so many nominees that are stopped up in this process of course Mitch McConnell saying. That's not true he doesn't think it's a big deal. So why now. The reason why now is there have been three back to back to back federal. Judges who the president has appointed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and that -- it is a very important. Court it's really -- -- last -- of course -- he goes to the Supreme Court. The president wants to get those. I'm his nominees on that's. Circuit Court of Appeals. So Harry Reid now believes that the time is to make this stand impose three appointments are necessary as well as appointments throughout the government. There really are so many nominees who were backed up. He believes it's time to a major change. That -- partisanship has become so entrenched he believes it's time to change senate rules and we'll see if if -- 51 Democrats agree with him. Right -- be here at Hollywood vote now let me just ask you one that separate question here the senate has been up. It's a tough debate over two bills the one that controversial national defense authorization act the other that would. Take sexual assault cases in the military to civilian -- Do these fights. What are expected what are we expecting in terms of those votes. Tyler we're expecting a vote on those yesterday perhaps and then again this morning but that is now not going to happen that is being held up. As day. A casualty of this if you also. They're still will be a vote at some point but it may not be this week it may not be before Thanksgiving. I'm at the heart of this is an effort to it to senator Kirsten Gillibrand Democrat of a New York is leading. And she is trying to as -- said take a sexual assault cases outside the chain of command. Military sexual assaults. Are on the rise and this is addition to senators trying to address but for now that's going to be put on the back burner as these -- senate to rule changes are disgust over his he -- nominations. And Jeff just to recap here the senate now voting on whether to change filibuster rules for an nominees in the federal government in the executive branch nominees. If Democrats win the minority party will lose their right to filibuster -- block these votes. However -- that -- hold true if Democrats lose the majority in the senate. That's absolutely right these rules are not one time only change they are changing the rules of the senate so we hear a lot of -- what goes around comes around. And Republicans I don't forget are only six seats short of winning control. Of the senate so next year 2014 this midterm election here. A Republicans believe they have a strong shot of winning control of the senate if they do it's a big if at this point it's a year -- But if they do these rules would still apply to them as well. And if the president wins the White House and 2016 more importantly these rules was still be in place that -- Unless -- times. All right ABC news senior Washington correspondent -- on you so much for joining us. I think if you've been watching our coverage of the senate floor and they are voting on the so called nuclear option to change the filibuster rules. Weakening the minority party in the senate. He can continue watching this vote streamed live right here on abcnews.com -- -- Hernandez in New York this has been an ABC news digital special his -- -- Mr. Leahy. Mr. lane.

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

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