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.
Fred Fields, if you want a true democracy- move. The USA is not a Democracy, we are a Constitutional Republic that uses demcratic principles. Part of the Constitutional Republic construct is th creation of checks and balances that congressional oversight of executive branch allows. With out this there is no alacrity of process in the govenment and one group can gain majority control without any representation of minority voices. This creates totalitarianism, fascism, and oligarchies.
Sniffit – what makes you think south is under and needs to rise again? Is it that obvious that there is such unjust in America. Is that why the liberals need the south who actually work and pay into taxes to afford their liberal life style? Everyone gets a say in the matter. These people represent the will of the people in the south. You should stop thinking in terms of our differences in ideology and start thinking about whether it's ok for Obama to continue to lie to WE THE PEOPLE and refuse to take responsibility for anything including OBSTRUCTING any effort in finding out what happened in Libya.
Just heard John Cornyn's argument against Judge Millett's appointment. In a nut shell, sounded to me like he was
saying, 'we paid a lot of money to buy those Republican judges, and I'll be darned if I'm going to let our money
go to waste by allowing a Democrat nominee take advantage and put us in the minority'. Jingle, jangle, jingle.
Clearly, the GOP wants nothing to do with moving the country forward. Anyone voting republican is throwing this country backwards. Unfortunately we still have another year before we can vote them out, get rid of this filthy Republican scourge altogether, and move our country into the 20th century.
Yup, give some more rope. Propose putting an infrastructure bill on the Senate floor and let them filibuster that, too. Propose a whole bunch of stuff that they'd filibuster.
The GOP should really looking at being lineman they are so good at blocking things.
@Huff – As for obstruction, are the Dems allowing anything from the GOP to proceed? How about 5 budgets the GOP has passed since 2007 all obstructed by the Dems?
The real indicator of intelligence is folks who ask why? Why is it like that? It's called cause and effect. So, lets jump all over the GOP budgets... laden with anti-abortion, defense spending increase, entitlement cutting, and since 2010.. ACA defunding and gutting riders. Much as Merkel should be questioning why her own intelligence agency didn't know of the NSA surveillance, but is instead deflecting blame ONTO the US, the right wing voting block should be questioning why Republicans have yet to send Reid a passable budget...
What these dumbos don't seem to realize is the need they have to win over Independent voters...not lose them by stupid tactics. It'll be a long time before I vote for a Republican at any level!
I am so sick of these Republicans! VOTE the all OUT! They do nothing!
One more bit of proof that the GOP has no intention of governing beyond complete and total obstruction. The treason and hypocrisy of our republicons is staggering. Hateful, intolerant, bigoted and greedy. These are the folks who are the majority in the house of representatives.
Today is the last day, if senate bill didn't get approved in house, people are going to loose not to eat last week of every month, on the other hand big farmers will get big subsidies... That is how republicans do.. They want to tank the presidency of Obama's second term to the core.. 5 billion dollars cuts in food stamps starts tomorrow... There is no accountable for the Ted Cruz, he caused 24 billions of dollars. But when website is not working, immediately Kathleen Should resign, what an analogy by republicans. Harry Reid, please stand tall and adopt the progressive principles which will make country great like what FDR, JFK, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson. Harry Reid, please don't fall trap with these republican clowns... They want to destroy this country.
Hey wish..........we had one of those things we call ELECTIONS. Obama won. Big. He gets his choice of picks unless they are unqualified. The senate using the filibuster on every nomination is spitting in the face of the bedrock principles of our democracy. If the nominees are not qualified the senate will vote no regardless of party.
The GOP really is shameless and pathetic, I think deep down they really want our country to fail. Is there nothing they won't do to undermine the President. They are like a bunch of spoiled brats who didn't get their way actually worse, a five year old has more common sense that the whole bunch of them. They are embarrassing all of them,cannot wait till 2014 & 2016
Every single article like this needs to present comparison data on how many Obama nominees have been blocked versus previous presidents. I've never seen such churlish behavior in DC.
It is simple: The GOP /Tea Party's mission is to be against everything that President Obama supports. They tried to make him a one-term President and that failed. The only solution is to kick them out of office and for Reid to use the nuclear option. You can not rationally deal with them... to much hatred, racism and evilness.
Keep up the good work Republicans we must destroy the Democratic Party and President Obama.
Hey, when you're good at something, you may as well stick with it. Why not just jam a paper clip in the "no" button and hit the fundraising trail to layer their pockets? Kill two birds with one stone.
Well considering the republicans have done all they could to keep *me* from being able to find a job, I'm not all that surprised they are trying to sabotage everyone else too. Just as long as *they* keep their jobs, right.
Repulicans never met a NO! they didn't like.
Didn't they just agree to stop doing this? About a month ago?
GOP extremism and obstructionism at it's finest.
Three vacancies on the court, and the Republican minority won't let Obama appoint anyone. Unbe-flippin-lievable. This filibuster abuse is out of control.
And the GOP has the audacity to wonder why it's fading into the sunset. C'mon, folks, the dots aren't far apart...CONNECT THEM!
Sen. Reid needs to use the nuclear option as there is no reasoning with these useless tea bags. They must be voted out next November in both the house and senate in order for the country to have any chance of moving forward. Totally useless bunch of cowards.
These are simply various Republican trying to burnish their right wing credentials enough so that the even more extreme right wing of the Republican Party doesn't primary them. It's the tyranny of the minority all y'all. The Republicans will eventually change their own nominating process to address this, particularly if they end up losing more seats or winning less than they expected in the 2014 elections.
Then again, maybe they just aren't far enough to the right! And it might be that a more pure right wing Republican Party would win! Go Cruz!
The Party of No strikes again.