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.
Whatever happened to Harry Reid and the nuclear option? Clearly Republicans have no intention of letting the Obama administration do anything, so why not change the Senate rules? There's no point trying to reason with these GOP idiots.
Lucky for me, my incumbent Congressman is a Teabagger Republican, s I can gladly vote against him .
The only people who are incompetent are the Republicans them selves!
Of course the GOP blocked them – they only want people like them in all facets of government as they mistakenly believe the majority is with them. Plus our President is the one who offered them up so it is an automatic no. Can't wait until 2014 and 2016 so we can get most of them out and start governing with the best interest of the country instead of the best interest of themselves.
@Donna, When you said "The LAST thing the Obama administration needs is more incompetent people," I assume you meant that we should stop voting for people like Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, John Boehner, Sarah Palin, Liz Cheney, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Todd Akin, Allen West, Mike Burgess, and Rick Perry as I would whole heartedly agree that the last thing we need is indeed ANOTHER incopetent person as we really do have too many already.
Senate Republicans must realize they are rendering the Senate useless for now, and for the future. Should Republicans ever get control of the Senate, god forbid, do they Democrats will forget this obstructionism? It is time for Americans to throw the crooks out.
GOP –> Grand Obstruction Party.
The Republicans apparently don't believe the polls of public opinion – or else they figure that they can't get much lower so they will continue to obstruct everyone and everything.
Actually, they do believe the polls. They just think that the poll results are indicative of a messaging problem, which means they have to double down on being even louder and more extreme.
It's sad to see so many people in here bashing Republicans and supporting an incompetent president who don't realize the party they identify with is just another cheek on the same rear end. 6 in one, 1/2 dozen in the other. Same/same.
*BTW, I am not a Republican
Enough with the B S already. They have declared war on this President. I am sick of these obstructionist Republicans. I hope the Predident and the Senate do all they can to override these political wastetrals.
If they are sopinon her then all republicans that caused the country 24 billions should all go to jail because what goes around come around
Obama does nothing but nominate his political cronies (and incompetent ones at that). Block as many of his nominees as possible.
Just one year and two weeks from now, we will be done with this republican distraction. Approval rate of 22% and thinking they don't have to answer to voters is making a democrat dominated Senate and House a shoe in.
Man, I can't wait to vote! These Republicans are destroying themselves.
The federal reserve should be investigated...
they need to make a little rule change just like the house did. make it so only the senate majority leader can filibuster
Block them all!
Anyone approved by Obama must either be corrupt or incompetent.
The Republicans are well on their way just to close down the government. They are blocking everything, except the big cut in food stamps. The Republicans are out to starve out the people. People who have minimum paying jobs that do not pay all the bills. The Republicans say get a good paying jobs. Well Republicans what have you done to get any jobs? Yet, the farm bill will subsidy tens of millions in farm aids for the same Republicans who are cutting out food stamps. Some of these Republicans are millionaires and getting farm subsidies. Who are the real crooks, the law makers or people trying to survive on minimum wages. Republicans are waging a war against the people They must be defeated or this nation will fail.
"Democrats said the filibuster was a transparent attempt to maintain conservative influence on the court.".. is the atomic weight of Cobalt 58.93?
The Republicans have some pretty high standards. After all, Gov. Rick Scott of Fla. is not merely a medicare fraud artist but one of the greatest medicare frauds in history. Darrell Issa developed his anti-car thief device after stealing cars, but he did detour from his preferred profession to burn down a business for the insurance. Hard to meet those standards.
These people are crazy.
Republicans are nothing if not predictable. That is to say, they're obstructionists through and through. This latest stunt should not be a surprise to anyone paying attention to the farce that has become the Grand Old Tea Party of today.
It is clearly time to do away with the arcane filibuster, which allows a small minority to prevent the proper functioning of government. You may not like Obama, but he was elected president (twice) and deserves to have HIS own staff, unless there are serious issues of wrong-doing, not just because someone doesn't agree with their philosophy. This is truly an anti-democratic, abuse of power, and the only solution is to get rid of the filibuster once and forall.
Does not matter what the President tries to do the tea party will be against it. Some people can not come to grip with the fact the south lost. They do not respect him because of his skin color. Sad but I am speaking the truth
So Huff, You will not complain when the Democrats block all Republican Presidential nominees?