ABC, NBC Minimize Senate Democrats Dropping Nuclear Option, Tout 'Bold Move'

ABC's Good Morning America and NBC's Today on Friday did their best to downplay Senate Democrats' Thursday move to curtail the Republican Party's filibuster power. The two newscasts devoted a combined 39 seconds to the controversial vote, which ABC's Dan Harris labeled a "bold move". GMA apparently thought the potential marriage of serial killer Charles Manson was more important, as it devoted over two minutes of air time to that eyebrow-raising story. [audio of the ABC and NBC coverage available here; video below the jump]

By contrast, Friday's CBS This Morning spent nearly three minutes on the "historic change in the Senate", as Norah O'Donnell put it. O'Donnell also wondered, "Will Democrats regret invoking the nuclear option?"

Harris used his "bold move" term during a 23-second news brief on Good Morning America. The ABC news anchor also used the same "historic change" phrase that O'Donnell did:

DAN HARRIS: We're going to talk about a historic change in Washington, which this morning is only intensifying the partisan bickering. In a bold move, Senate Democrats have changed long-standing filibuster rules, saying it is necessary to overcome legislative gridlock. From now on, only a simple majority vote will be needed to confirm most presidential nominees. Republicans called the move, which President Obama himself once opposed, a naked power grab.

Four minutes later, NBC's Natalie Morales gave her very general 16-second news brief on Today about the Senate vote:

NATALIE MORALES: Some people say lawmakers are all talk, but that could change, as the Senate voted Thursday to weaken the power of the filibuster. The 52 to 48 vote is a win for Democrats. The vote makes it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the President's nominees for judges and other top posts.

On CBS This Morning, correspondent Nancy Cordes did something that Harris didn't: play a clip of then-Senator Obama voicing his opposition to the "nuclear option" during a 2005 press conference:

NORAH O'DONNELL: The filibuster has played a huge role in the history of the Senate. This morning, that power of open-ended debate has been dramatically cut back.

CHARLIE ROSE: Senate Democrats voted yesterday to change the rule that allowed Republicans to block presidential appointments. Senators will only be allowed to filibuster Supreme Court nominations.

Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill. Nancy, good morning.

NANCY CORDES: Charlie and Norah, good morning to you. The rule they changed has been around for 96 years. Democrats say Republicans were abusing it, and they had no choice. But Republicans call this a power grab, and say that Democrats robbed the minority of one of its true few pieces of leverage.

[CBS News Graphic: "The Nuclear Option: Senate Dems In Dramatic Move To Curb Filbusters"]

CORDES (voice-over): All but three Democrats voted to clip the minority's power, lowering the hurdle for curbing presidential appointees from 60 votes to a simple majority of 51 votes. That means Republicans can no longer block nominees if they don't like them, or to extract unrelated concessions.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D), MAJORITY LEADER (from press conference): What has gone on is absolutely unfair and wrong, and I'm glad we changed it.

CORDES: Half of all the filibusters against presidential nominations in U.S. history have involved Mr. Obama's nominees. Seventy-six presidential nominees are awaiting confirmation, for an average of 147 days. Republicans recently blocked three of the President's nominees to the powerful U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. But Republicans say Democrats are only taking this step now because they're trying to divert attention from ObamaCare's problems.

[CBS News Graphic: "U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Washington DC; Blocked; Patricia Millett; Cornelia Pillard; Robert Wilkins"]

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R), KENTUCKY (on-camera, from speech on Senate floor): To my friends on the other side of the aisle, you'll regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.
                           
CORDES: That's the same argument then-Senator Barack Obama made in 2005, when Republicans were in charge and considering the same move.


BARACK OBAMA (from May 2005 press conference): I think the loss will be enormous, and one that all parties involved will come to regret.

CORDES: On Thursday, he said times have changed.

OBAMA (from White House press conference): Today's pattern of obstruction – it just isn't normal. It's not what our founders envisioned.

CORDES: Republican Senator John McCain led a bipartisan effort to head off the nuclear option in July. He was not successful this time.

CORDES (on-camera): Do you think the Senate can ever go back from this?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: I would be surprised because if we got the majority in 2015, I think there would be people who would be – not want to reverse it.

CORDES (live): Democrats argue this move is going to ease gridlock because they'll be able to get these nominees through much quicker, while Republicans say it's only going to increase mistrust on all the other issues. Either way, Charlie and Norah, nobody is getting confirmed over the next two weeks, because the Senate has just gone on a long recess.

ROSE: Thanks, Nancy.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center