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Senate approves change to filibuster rule
In a 52 to 48 vote, 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.
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.
In an appearance at the White House Thursday, Obama said he "welcomed" the rules change, which he said was needed to fix an "unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress."
"A simple majority vote no longer seems to be sufficient for anything, even routine business, in what is supposed to be the world's foremost deliberative body," Obama said. "Today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't' normal, it's not what our founders envisioned."
Obama said nearly 30 presidential nominees to executive positions had been filibustered during his presidency, compared with 20 such cases previously in history. "In each of these cases it's not been because they opposed the person... it was simply because they opposed the policies the American people voted for in the last election," Obama said. "
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.
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."
Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who has been a senator since 1981, took the Senate floor to condemn the rules change. He quoted Democrats who were opposed to filibuster reform when the party was last in the minority. "Not too many years ago, my colleagues on the other side described their fight to preserve the filibuster with great pride," Grassley said. "Today the other side is willing to forever change the Senate because the Republican have the audacity to hold them, the majority party of today, to their own standard."
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