Washington (CNN) - Supporters of a move to end filibusters of presidential nominees picked up a key ally Tuesday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a veteran California Democrat, says she has changed her mind and now supports using the so-called "nuclear option" - changing Senate rules over the objections of Republicans to prevent those filibusters. She said she has been persuaded to take the extraordinary step because the public is anxious to have Washington work and "you can't do it if the President can't get a cabinet, a sub-cabinet, judges, commissioners." Filibusters require 60 votes to set aside, a high hurdle in the narrowly divided Senate.
The longtime member of the Judiciary Committee said blocking nominees has "never been as bad as it is now" and blamed "politics" for the GOP-led filibusters of three recent nominees to the important District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.
Feinstein made her decision known to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid when he called her about the issue recently.
It's unclear if proponents now have the 51 votes necessary to change the rules. Reid refused to answer that question at a news conference Tuesday, and he didn't indicate whether he'd actually carry out the "nuclear option."
Typically, 67 votes are needed to make a change in the Senate rules.
Republicans, who have repeatedly urged the majority Democrats not to carry out their threat, argue it is their constitutional right to reject presidential picks.
"If advise and consent is going to mean anything at all then occasionally there's going to be a situation where consent is not given," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who argued the vast majority of President Obama's nominees have been approved. "By any objective standard, we have not been abusing" the filibuster of confirmations.
In the case of the D.C. Circuit, Republicans say the workload for the court doesn't necessitate additional judges at this time.
Republicans warned the use of the "nuclear option" could destroy the working relationship between Democrats and Republicans.
"It would make it very, very difficult going forward," said Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, a member of the GOP leadership. "It's going to have consequences."
"I understand there is going to be blowback," Feinstein said. "We're just going to have to handle it."
In recent weeks a growing number of senior senators have said they are open to changing the rules. They include Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democratic senator. Vice President Joe Biden, who served decades in the Senate and is known to cherish Senate tradition, also said the idea now is worth considering.