Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, frustrated by what they described as Republican obstructionism, voted Thursday to change the filibuster in order to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on presidential nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) hold a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington November 21, 2013. The Democratic-led U.S. Senate, in a historic rule change, stripped Republicans on Thursday of their ability to block President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive branch nominees. On a nearly party-line vote of 52-48, Democrats changed the Senate’s balance of power by reducing from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed to end procedural roadblocks known as filibusters against presidential nominees, except those for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Independent U.S. Senator Angus King and Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins, both of Maine.
AP File Photos
Of the 168 filibusters in U.S. history against presidential nominees, half have been used by Republicans in the last five years.
Maine’s two U.S. senators were on opposite sides, with Republican Sen. Susan Collins calling the vote “a terrible mistake” and Sen. Angus King saying he reluctantly supported filibuster reform.
“I am comfortable with this change,” King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said after the vote. “I am sorry it had to come to this but I think the public is just fed up with our inability to do the simplest things, like confirm judges and officials.”
The Senate voted 52-48 to eliminate the tradition of requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to move forward with judicial and executive nominees. The change will make it easier for President Obama and future presidents to win approval of Cabinet nominees as well as appointments to federal benches.
Supreme Court justices will still have to surpass a 60-vote threshold.
The vote came roughly five months after Democrats and Republicans negotiated an agreement to avoid a similar change. But tensions quickly rose and reached fever pitch in recent weeks as Republicans blocked three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is considered the second most important bench after the U.S. Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of abusing the filibuster at unprecedented levels to block qualified nominees in order to achieve other goals. Reid said that more than one-half of filibusters of executive and judicial nominees have occurred during the Obama administration.
“It’s time to change the Senate, before this institution becomes obsolete,” Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor prior to the vote.
Republicans countered that Democrats pioneered the use of the filibuster to obstruct filling DC Circuit vacancies when they were in the minority during the George W. Bush administration. In fact, the two parties were on opposite sides of the exact same debate during an earlier, unfulfilled Republican threat to change the filibuster.
“This is a bad day for the Senate,” said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who noted that both parties have used the filibuster to their advantage while in the minority – and sometimes with good reason. “Think of all of the nutty ideas [Democrats] have stopped. Think of all of the nutty ideas that we have stopped.”
The change is the most far-reaching since 1975, when a two-thirds requirement for cutting off filibusters against legislation and all nominations was lowered to 60 votes. It would deliver a major blow to Republicans’ ability to thwart Obama in making appointments, though Republicans have promised the same fate would await Democrats whenever Republicans recapture the White House and Senate control, The Associated Press reported.
Reid forced the vote after Republicans voted again to block consideration of Patricia Ann Millett – an experienced litigator from Virginia who was born in Maine – to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Millett, whose family has deep roots in Maine, was praised as eminently qualified by members in both parties, having argued more than 30 cases before the Supreme Court.
But Republicans contend the court already has enough judges to handle what they portray as a relatively light workload and accused Democrats of simply trying to stack the bench with Obama nominees.
Collins supported Millett’s nomination and opposed the filibuster of Millett and the two other DC Circuit nominees. She also voted Thursday to re-consider Millett’s nomination but joined all other Republicans in opposing Reid’s parliamentary move to change the filibuster. Three Democrats – Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – also opposed changing the filibuster.
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