Updated 10/31/2013 at 5:23 p.m. ET
(CNN) - Republicans blocked two high-profile presidential nominees on Thursday as the bitter fight over appointments escalated in the U.S. Senate, but Democrats held their fire and decided, for now, to forgo a change in rules to limit filibusters.
The GOP mounted filibusters against Judge Patricia Millett, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, and Rep. Melvin Watt, who was named to head the agency that oversees housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Democrats fell short in procedural votes called to move forward on the nominations, testing their patience and raising serious questions about how they might respond.
Although it was raised as a possibility, Democrats are not expected at this time to invoke the so-called "nuclear option" to change filibuster rules, two Senate Democratic leadership aides told CNN.
Many rank-and-file Democrats wanted the change, over objections from minority Republicans, to allow the Senate to approve appointments with a simple majority vote rather than the 60 now needed to proceed with a nomination.
But Democratic leaders are reluctant to engage a knock down fight with Republicans at the same time they need to move other legislative priorities through the Senate.
Next week, the Senate will take up a key piece of gay rights legislation, and Democrats believe they are just one vote shy getting it passed and don't want to jeopardize their prospects by angering Republicans with a rule change effort.
The Senate also will soon enough turn its attention back to the fiscal issues in desperate need of bipartisan cooperation.
Opposition to appointments
Republicans argued that Millett's appointment to the judicial post that has been a stepping stone for some to the U.S. Supreme Court was unnecessary.
They said the appeals panel now is evenly divided between judges appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents and doesn't have enough work to justify an additional member even though there are three vacancies.
Democrats said the filibuster was a transparent attempt to maintain conservative influence on the court.
Earlier in the day, Republicans also blocked Obama's nomination of Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, an independent federal entity that has been in control of Fannie and Freddie since their taxpayer rescue last decade during the housing crisis.
Republicans argued Watt is not independent enough and lacks expertise to run the agency.
Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee more than half of all outstanding mortgages in the United States, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Opening from Biden
The push to change the rules appeared to get a boost when Vice President Joe Biden, who served in the Senate for decades, said it was "worth considering."
The opening from Biden reflects the thinking of many Democrats who want to push for the controversial change.
For instance, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, was frustrated with the Millett vote, especially.
"This is declaring war on the judicial branch. This is declaring war on the executive branch. It is inconsistent with the traditions of the Senate," he said. "This type of blockade cannot stand."
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, complained the fight was "all about ideology" and said he thought support was "growing for changing the rules when they play these games."
But other veteran Senate Democrats who have seen the majority change hands between the parties over the years are opposed, saying they want to preserve the right to filibuster in the future.
"I've never favored using the nuclear option," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who chairs the Armed Services Committee and who is retiring from the Senate after this term.
The second-ranking Senate Republican warned that Democrats need to "think twice" about changing the rules.
Or, he said, the "next time there is a Republican president and Republicans hold a majority in the Senate then we could confirm another (Antonin) Scalia, another (Clarence) Thomas with 51 votes," Senator John Cornyn of Texas said, referring to the two conservative Supreme Court justices.
–CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report.
How unique! Republicans obstructing the function of government.
Really, if they hate government and want to break it so badly, why should we elect them to office?
Vet everybody thoroughly!!! The LAST thing the Obama administration needs is more incompetent people. They have too many now and refuse to get rid of them. All Obama does is pick people that will cover for him and not people that are capable of actually performing the job. The American TAXPAYER pay the salaries of these people and they are supposed to work FOR US. They need to understand that are not Obama's political commissars.
Aaaw, how cute, more breaking gov't to "prove" it's broken. Maybe a little retaliation for November 2012 too, hmmm? "Waaaah, we're not in control and don't get to make everything the way we want it!!!!!! Therefore, everything must be deliberately broken, obstructed and hindered. If we don't get to have it, nobody does!!!!! Waaaaaaaaaah!!!!"
I think that it is strange that the POTUS cannot pick many members of his own staff. I understand why some positions would need some sort of confirmation process: i.e., Defense Secretary. This doesn't occur at the local and state levels to this degree.
"Republicans argued Rep. Melvin Watt, D-North Carolina, wasn't independent enough and lacked expertise to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency."
That argument is an argument about the merits of his nomination and whether he is qualified. The proper procedure is to hold the confirmation hearings, put all the proof you can to support your position into the congressional record, hope to convince as many fellow Senators to vote with you and then you VOTE ON THE MERITS. You don't just block there being any vote at all. This is absurd, and it's quite obviously a deliberate attempt to hamstring the administration, hamstring agencies and organizations that the GOP/Teatrolls simply don't like (so they can later say "look, they didn't work right, so they're broken!") and essentially avoid the consequences of November 2012's elections. Petulant tantrum throwing infants.
GOP is gone to dogs.in 2014.
"You don't just block there being any vote at all. This is absurd ... "
Oh, but they do, Sniffit. Over and over again.
Childish as well.
But, we ARE, after all, talking GOPerville.
The land of blankies and binkies.
And temper tantrums a plenty.
Governing, though? Not so much.
@Donna, Can you name these incompetent people, since you know of "so many" it shouldn't be too difficult. And why are they incompetent and how are the covering for Obama?
Sad to see politics always stand in the way of getting on with this country business.
One suggestion: one half of senators salary to be given on per nominee confirmed or processed basis. this is to remind the country suffers senator has first hand experience in pains to the nation.
Wow, the GOP obstructing something. But they almost never do that unless it's something really important. *rolls eyes*
I guess this latest example of obstructionism is part of the GOP's rebranding effort. 2014 can not come soon enough (except for the 12% that think these clowns are doing a good job). Bachmann is already gone, although it would have been nice to see her trounced in an election, she chose the easy way out by not seeking another term. Paul Ryan will be ousted, as well as good number of the tea bag contingent. Unfortunately, we will have to endure a few more years of Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who will both be one term senators. Then maybe, we can get back to running the country and doing what is right for the American people.
Well Mr. President, it seems that someone besides you can say no.....perhaps they will negotiate with you....just like you did a few weeks back.......
What's new, it is Obama's pick.
Play on republicants. Obstruct, destroy, deny, tear down, point finger, pout and throw stones, have your fun now because tomorrow began the count down to you majorityship as Virginia will show you next Tuesday. Watch
Wow, this is exhausting... Their hatred is so strong that it's made it all but impossible for President Obama to govern. Imagine how far along we could be in our economic recovery right now if we didn't have to waste time with block nominations, 45 votes to repeal ObamaCare, over 450 fake filibusters, nearly crashing the Federal government and host of other mindless pursuits... If I'm exhausted just watching, I can't even imagine how tired and over it the President must be...
Same crap, different day. Let's not have government that works, that would defeat our point.
Never let runnung the country get in the way of a good political temper-tantrum!
after Obama's Obamacare fiasco does this President think he will get anything from the GOP?
The dems do the same thing when a republican is president. Obstuct, block, sling mud, scandals, and etc. Its all just political fodder.
369 days...November 4, 2014. Counting down...
the GOP are worse than Al-Queda.....homegrown terrorists
Just trying to protect us from more incompetence like Sebelius.
Let's not have government that works, that would defeat our point
obamacare, irs, benghazi, nsa, fast & furious, record unemployment, record food stamps, record debt & deficits, lowest workforce since the 80's, ....
government that works??? where??!!!
The BIG FAIL here is the inaction and lack of resolve shown by the (now small) honorable section of the GoP to root out the Radical Extremists and Subversives. . That makes them accessories to this fraud - Worse even than the direct perpetrators ! ! !
It will take decades to recover - IF EVER ! ! !
In the meantime, our politics is hamstrung by the lack of a CREDIBLE, HONORABLE Conservative voice - We just have these "cute" little Palinesque kiddie CONservatives and some leftover McScum scurrying pointlessly about, spreading destruction wherever they land ! ! !
Most actions by this current version of the Republican party is just so show us they still can weld some power before they become obsolete.
That argument is an argument about the merits of his nomination and whether he is qualified. The proper procedure is to hold the confirmation hearings, put all the proof you can to support your position into the congressional record, hope to convince as many fellow Senators to vote with you and then you VOTE ON THE MERITS.
The GOP could prove beyond reasonable doubt that an Obama appointee stole a 6-year-old's lunch money and gave minature poodles flying lessons in addition to being a complete incompetent, and the Obama rubber-stamp senate would approve them anyway. In your words... YAWN.