Sen. Hoeven: Senate Rule Change Is 'Power Grab'

Nov 22, 2013
Originally published on November 22, 2013 4:24 pm

The Senate voted yesterday to invoke the “nuclear option.” Today we take a look at the potential fallout from that move.

The rule change overturned the requirement for a 60-vote majority to stop a filibuster of most presidential nominees. Now a filibuster can be stopped with a simple majority of 51.

Jim Manley a former Democratic aide compared the move to opening a Pandora’s box. Senator Mitch McConnell said “you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”

Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with his thoughts on yesterday’s vote.


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And as we follow the events from 50 years ago, we're also keeping an eye on today's news. So let's get to the big story in Washington, which is the fallout from yesterday's vote by Senate Democrats to limit the ability of the minority party to filibuster the president's nominees.

Republicans have called it a power grab by Democrats and say Democrats will eventually regret the move. President Obama is applauding it, saying it is critical to changing the way Washington does business. Joining us now, Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota. Senator, welcome.

SENATOR JOHN HOEVEN: Good to be with you, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, what's your response to what happened yesterday?

HOEVEN: Well, I think first of all it's an effort to change the focus from Obamacare, but the other thing it's done unilaterally. It's purely a partisan move to change the rules. That's how Obamacare was passed. You see the problem it creates when you don't get bipartisan support. So I think it's a bad idea at a time when we need more bipartisanship, not less.

HOBSON: But what about the argument by Senator Reid that of the 128 filibusters of nominees in the history of the Senate, half of those have occurred from Republicans during the Obama administration?

HOEVEN: If you look at the actual statistics, out of 215 traditional nominations, I think there's two that have been turned down, and if you look at the overall nominations that have been made, I think all but four have been confirmed. It's more than 99 percent confirmation rate. So really, I mean, he's trying to find a problem that isn't there.

HOBSON: But they may eventually be confirmed. They're delayed for a long time. The average waiting for a conformation, 140 days. A lot of people saying that this is just an attempt to keep the president from getting anything done.

HOEVEN: Not so. They're on the calendar, and when they come up, there's a bunch and when Majority Leader Reid brings them up. And if you look at the total confirmations, President Obama is doing better than President Bush did with the Democrats. So it's just not reasonable if you look at the actual facts.

HOBSON: What will this do to the upcoming negotiations on the budget, on the debt ceiling? We just went through that once. But of course the next deadline is coming up in the next couple of months.

HOEVEN: I'm concerned. We have got to find a way to bring Republicans and Democrats together to move legislation. And I think on the part of the majority, they have to be willing to put legislation on the floor and allow amendments. Give people a chance to put their amendment forward. Let's have the vote. I think that's our best shot not only to get bipartisanship but to actually pass these important bills.

HOBSON: But do you see another fight over the debt ceiling coming?

HOEVEN: Yes, I do. I see a fight over the budget and the debt ceiling, and I think the way we get through it is just what I said: have an open process, have vigorous debate, rather than a process right now where the majority leader, Majority Leader Reid, is controlling not only the amendments on their side but also on the Republican side rather than having an open process.

HOBSON: Senator, do you think that the filibuster serves a purpose? When you have to go and explain to your constituents why there is such a thing as a filibuster, do you think it actually helps the government work?

HOEVEN: So I think it does serve a purpose. Now I understand anything can be of use, right. I mean, we have to understand that. But I do think the purpose of requiring 60 votes is that you force bipartisanship on legislation.

HOBSON: Senator, we on the program today and many Americans are looking back 50 years after the death of President Kennedy, the assassination. I wonder, you were alive at that point. Your thoughts on what this day means to you.

HOEVEN: I think all of us that were alive at that time can remember very well where we were and what we were doing because it was such a tragedy. It touched us all. And I mean, I think it still affects us. President Kennedy was such a youthful ray of light, optimistic leader that, like I said, it still affects us all.

And I can remember very clearly when I got the news and how truly shocked and saddened I was.

HOBSON: Where were you?

HOEVEN: I was actually in the basement of my home in North Dakota. We lived out in the country, and my - you know, I was a little kid at that time, and my mother came to the top of the stairs. I was down playing with my friends, and said - she was crying and said the president, President Kennedy has been shot. And we were just stunned.

HOBSON: And do you take any lessons from him in your own political career 50 years later?

HOEVEN: Absolutely. Leadership is optimistic. Like we were talking about earlier, to get things done in this country, we must be bipartisan. Leadership is forward-looking, believing in this nation and that we can do great things and be optimistic about our future.

HOBSON: Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, thanks so much for speaking with us.

HOEVEN: Thanks, Jeremy, good to be with you.


And Jeremy, we've been asking listeners for their memories of that day. You can read them at, so many coming in. Here's Ginger Maddox(ph), who remembered hearing it, as so many young people did, on the PA at school. She writes: The moment I arrived home, I turned on the TV, stayed glued for the weekend. Sunday I watched them transfer Lee Harvey Oswald from the police headquarters to the county jail. I saw a man step forward, bang, bang, bang, he was shot. We'll have more, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.