The Right Wing

BREAKING: Senate Approves Change to Filibuster Rule After Repeated Republican Blocks

Historic rule change means presidential nominees require only simple majority.

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid
Photo Credit: Spirit of America/Shutterstock.com

The US Senate voted on Thursday to change the rules that have enabled Republicans to block Barack Obama's nominees for top administration posts.

By 52 votes to 48, senators approved along partisan lines a measure that would ban the use of the filibuster to prevent nominees from being confirmed. In a speech in support of the measure, majority leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of blocking nominees in the pursuit of unrelated legislative goals.

"For the first time in the history of our republic, Republicans have routinely used the filibuster to prevent President Obama from appointing an executive team and from appointing judges," Reid said. "The need for change is so, so very obvious. It's clearly visible. It's manifest we have to do something to change things."

Until now, 60 votes have been required to lift or avoid a filibuster. Under the new rules, a simple majority of 51 would suffice. The new measure would not apply to supreme court nominees. "It's an undeniable fact that the obstruction we've seen in recent years is altogether new," Reid said after the vote.

Vice president Joe Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, was intercepted by reporters outside a hoagie shop Thursday morning and asked whether he supported the rules change."Yes, I do," Biden said.

Republicans have used the filibuster three times in November, to prevent confirmation votes on judges nominated by Barack Obama to fill vacancies on the US appeals court for the Washington DC circuit. Reid said that of 128 filibusters of nominees in the history of the Senate, half had occurred during the Obama administration.

Reid's move came after months of warnings by the Democratic majority in the Senate that it would resort to a rules change if Republicans refused to allow confirmation votes. As the majority party in the Senate, Democrats would be able to make the change on a strict party-line vote.

Republicans have warned, however, that Democrats may regret the move when they next find themselves in the minority. "Some of us have been here long enough to know the shoe is sometimes on the other foot," minority leader Mitch McConnell said, on the Senate floor. "You'll regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."

Reid acknowledged he was proposing an "important change to the rules of the United States Senate" but said something had to be done to repair the legislative process. "Is the Senate working now? Can anyone say the Senate is working now?" he said. "I don't think so."

Speaking after the vote, Reid said he was comfortable that Republicans would take advantage of the new rules when they were in power. "When the Repubicans are in power, these changes will apply to them as well. That's simple fairness."

On the Senate floor, Reid listed nominees whose confirmation votes Republicans had blocked, including defense secretary Chuck Hagel; Richard Cordray, nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board; Mel Watt, nominated to be administrator of the Housing Finance Agency; and Caitlin Halligan and Patricia Millett, both DC circuit court nominees. In total, Reid said, 75 executive branch nominations had waited an average of 140 days for confirmation.

Republicans block Obama nominees "not because they object to the qualifications, but because the they seek to undermine the very government they were elected to serve", Reid said.

McConnell called the suggestion that Republicans had been unduly obstructionist "patently ridiculous in light of the facts, an utterly absurd suggestion, in light of the facts".

"Senate Republicans have been very, very fair to this president," McConnell said.

Bypassing the question of the vacant executive branch positions, McConnell implied that the DC district court did not need a full complement of judges, saying the court was not busy. McConnell compared the proposed rules change to the president's withdrawn promise that, under the Affordable Care Act, consumers could keep health insurance they liked. "He may have just as well have said, 'If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them,'" McConnell said.

McConnell said Democrats had pioneered the technique of filibustering presidential nominees during the presidency of George W Bush. "They started it," he said.

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