It takes 60 votes in the Senate to block or end a filibuster. Senate rules allow any member or group of senators to speak as long as necessary on an issue. The only way to end the debate is to evoke "cloture," or with a vote of 60 members. Without the 60 votes needed, the filibuster can go on indefinitely.
On November 21, 2013, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate. The "nuclear option" uses an interpretation of Senate procedure to be able to change chamber rules with a simple majority vote. In this case, the option was used to change the vote requirement for executive nominee confirmations to be considered on the floor. Prior to the rule change, senators could filibuster until a cloture motion requiring 60 votes was passed in the chamber. The "nuclear option" changed the requirement to a simple majority. The threat of the "nuclear option" occurred in many previous sessions of Congress, but none had pulled the trigger to fully invoke the procedure.
The "nuclear option" was invoked in response to Senate Republicans blocking the nomination of three D.C. Circuit Court judges. The rule change passed by a vote of 52-48, with Carl Levin, Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor being the only Democrats to vote in opposition. According to the Congressional Research Service, of the 67 times between 1967 and 2012 the filibuster was used on a judicial nominee, 31 were during during the Obama administration.
The change in rules did not apply to legislation or Supreme Court nominees.
Unlike the more notable filibusters throughout history, most filibusters today are "talking filibusters." The famous scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a famous example of a talking filibuster, where Jimmy Stewart's character collapses after a long filibuster.
On March 6, 2013, Senator Rand Paul (R) led a 13-hour filibuster of President Obama's CIA Director nominee, John Brennan. Paul started the filibuster in order to highlight his concerns about the administration's drone policies. In particular, Paul said he was concerned about whether a drone could be used to kill an American citizen within the United States border, without any due process involved. Paul and other civil liberties activists were critical that President Obama did not offer a clear response to the question. A total of 14 senators joined Paul in the filibuster -- 13 Republicans and one Democrat.
The day after the filibuster, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Paul, responding to the filibuster. Holder wrote, "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil? The answer to that is no."
McConnell filibusters his own bill
On December 6, 2012, another milestone in filibuster history was reached when Senator Mitch McConnell (R), became the first senator to filibuster his own proposal. McConnell did not give a lengthy speech, instead merely invoking the rules of filibuster on his bill to raise the passage threshold to 60 votes.
- U.S. Senate: Cloture Rule
- U.S. Senate: Filibuster and Cloture
- Top 5 Senate Filibusters from ABC News
- The Silent Filibuster Explained
- United States Senate, "Definitions and Glossary: Filibuster," accessed March 7, 2013
- About.com, "What is a Filibuster," accessed March 7, 2013
- United States Senate, "Filibuster Cloture," accessed March 7, 2013
- Politico, "Senate goes for 'nuclear option,'" accessed November 21, 2013
- Washington Post, "Reid, Democrats trigger 'nuclear' option; eliminate most filibusters on nominees," November 21, 2013
- Constitution Center, "Fascinating Facts about Senate Filibusters," accessed March 7, 2013
- Washington Post, "The Silent Filibuster Explained," accessed March 7, 2013
- CNN, "Rand Paul says he's heard from White House after filibuster," March 7, 2013
- USA Today, "Rand Paul filibuster ranks among Senate's longest," March 7, 2013
- ABC News, "Rand Paul Wins Applause From GOP and Liberals," March 7, 2013
- Washington Post, "Eric Holder responds to Rand Paul with ‘no’," March 7, 2013
- Christian Science Monitor, "Debt ceiling debate twist: Sen. Mitch McConnell filibusters himself," accessed March 7, 2013
- Global Post, "Mitch McConnell filibusters himself after Dems call bluff," accessed March 7, 2013