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Obama On Filibuster Reform: White House Embraces Harry Reid's Rule Changes

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OBAMA FILIBUSTER REFORM
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama arrive at Nellis Air Force Base on Aug. 21, 2012, outside Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) | AP

WASHINGTON -- Jumping squarely into the white-hot debate currently being waged in the Senate, the White House on Wednesday said it supports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's efforts to change the rules of the upper chamber.

"The President has said many times that the American people are demanding action," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "They want to see progress, not partisan delay games. That hasn't changed, and the President supports Majority Leader Reid's efforts to reform the filibuster process."

"Over the past few years important pieces of legislation like the DREAM Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the American Jobs Act weren't even allowed to be debated, and judicial nominations and key members of the administration are routinely forced to wait months for an up-or-down vote," Pfeiffer added. "The American people deserve a United States Senate that puts them first, instead of partisan delay."

This endorsement of Reid's effort to reform the filibuster is the firmest White House statement to date on the matter. During last year's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to give judicial and "public service" nominees an up-or-down vote. But when Reid was contemplating a set of rules changes before the last Congress, the administration was largely ambivalent with its support and even less so with its engagement.

Reid has been pushing for a series of changes that would preserve the right of the minority party to hold up legislative matters via a 60-vote threshold, but would make it harder to obstruct Senate business in this manner. The Nevada Democrat has called for the elimination of one such cloture vote at the beginning of the amend-and-debate period, while maintaining the cloture vote at the end of that period. He has also sought changes that would force lawmakers who engage in a filibuster to actually perform the traditional act of standing on the Senate floor and talking.

To achieve these goals, Reid has signaled his intention to use the so-called constitutional option, which would allow him to change the rules of the chamber through a 51-vote majority at the beginning of the next Congress. His counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has furiously opposed this tactic, speaking at length on the Senate floor against it and calling the move a "fundamental change to the way the Senate operates."

On the sub-debate over how rules reforms are pursued, the White House was content to not offer a position.

"How Majority Leader Reid goes about it is up to him," said a senior administration official.

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