Senate enforces 'nuclear option,' confirms long-stalled judicial nominee
December 10th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
11 months ago

Senate enforces 'nuclear option,' confirms long-stalled judicial nominee

Washington (CNN) – Senate Democrats on Tuesday began enforcing their politically explosive rules change on presidential appointments with the chamber confirming an appeals court justice and pushing aside Republican objections to another nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and most other members of the majority party last month invoked the so-called "nuclear option" to speed consideration of most Presidential nominations by making it easier to break Republican filibusters.

They acted out of frustration in changing Senate rules, saying Republicans had long abused their powers to object to President Barack Obama's appointments, arguing that he had a right to fully staff his administration.

Democrats have pointed to figures showing 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations in Senate history, with about half occurring during Obama's nearly five years in office.

The new rules were designed to accelerate the process and that's what occurred on Tuesday.

The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett as a federal appeals court justice for the District of Columbia Circuit, an enormously prestigious post as it can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Republicans had long blocked Millett and two other Obama nominees to the panel to prevent what they fear would be a more liberal-leaning majority on the bench.

Obama said in a statement that he was pleased with the decision by all of the Senate's Democrats and two Republicans to finally fill a vacancy that has been open since 2005.

"Ms. Millett is a leading appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court, the second-most by a female advocate. She has served in the Department of Justice for both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I'm confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench." Obama said.

The Senate also voted on Tuesday to break a Republican filibuster of Rep. Mel Watt, D-North Carolina, to be the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Republicans had blocked Watt's nomination after complaining he lacked the technical skills to run the agency.

The move infuriated Democrats and influenced their decision when exercising the "nuclear option" to lower the threshold for breaking filibusters from 60 to 51 votes. Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate.

A final confirmation vote on Watt could come later in the day.

– CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this story.


Filed under: President Obama • Senate
soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. The Real Tom Paine

    John in WNY

    Can you imagine the outrage when the GOP takes back the Presidency and the Senate and they use this very same rule to confirm the appointments made by the Republican President?
    **********************************************
    Had the GOP not made the stupid tactical decision to block the Cabinet appointees and the Circuit court nominees, this would not have happened.

    December 10, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  2. ghostwriter

    Just asking....did you have such objections when republican presidents appointed judges? Did you have such outrage when the house republicans changed rules to allow the Cruz-approved government shutdown to occur?

    December 10, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  3. Ron L

    Its about time...

    December 10, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  4. cosmicc

    A filibuster against a nomination you're opposed to is one piece of lunacy, a filibuster against a nomination because you don't like some unrelated legislation, is a completely different brand of lunacy. The filibuster should not have been done away with; the rules should have been modified to require a filibuster to be carried out in person with the speaker being forced to speak about the issue on the floor, not the weather back home. Oh, and by the way, if the Republicans had wanted to preserve the filibuster they had procedural options to block the Democrats move. They chose not to so they could get what they wanted (removal of the filibuster) while painting the Democrats as the bad guys.

    December 10, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  5. Fair is Fair

    "I don't see how you call it "packing the court" when the seat's been vacant since 2005. Give me a break."
    -------
    2005, eh Dutch? So who held up Bush's nomination for over 3 years?

    December 10, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  6. ghostwriter

    Just, I kinda doubt that every nominee put forth by republicans required 60 votes to move forward with voting. That is the difference. Democrats didn't filibuster just about every nominee Bush put forth. They didn't set a record in both number and types of filibusters. The very last one was done because republicans felt bad that a democratic president would nominate a democratic judge.

    You don't get to upset the apple cart just because you don't get your way. That is exactly what republicans have done since Nov2008.

    December 10, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  7. carlos

    I think the rules should have changed to actually force a real fillibuster. Harry Reids' mistake has been to allow the silent (or threat of) fillibuster. If the opposition wants to fillibuster then let them do it on the Senate floor until they can stand until they can't stand no more.

    December 10, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  8. Fair is Fair

    Tampa Tim

    Just – you do realize that Clarence Thomas got 52 votes, not the 60 you wrote.
    -------–
    It took 60 or more to put the nomination to a vote. Ya know?

    December 10, 2013 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Finally.
    Keep it going.

    December 10, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  10. Phil in KC

    Right, wrong or indifferent, at least we're moving forward now. Leaving a position unfilled for 8 years is ridiculous.

    December 10, 2013 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  11. CB FL

    Just 900 more to go.

    December 10, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. Old white conservative male

    ProudDem
    So the President nominating well-qualified judges to OPEN seats on the court and them getting confirmed by a majority vote is court packing....bu the GOP just trying to eliminate those seats altogether so that the President would not be able to nominate ANYONE and keep the majority of the court GOP nominees...is NOT court packing....riiiiiiight

    That is rather amusing seeing that the minority senate democrates used the same exact excuse in 2005. I wish you progressive liberal 1D10TS would tell the whole story and not just the part that tries to make them look better than they are.

    December 10, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  13. tom l

    "I’m pleased that in a bipartisan vote..."

    Really? He's just incredible. He gets 2 votes from repubs and tries to claim bipartisan. Technically he might be correct but would you really push "bipartisan" for a vote that gets a whopping 2 people from the other side?

    December 10, 2013 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  14. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Little Missy McConnell reached a gentleman’s agreement with Reid to stop the filibuster nonsense. In GOP fashion, he reneged on the deal. Reid was forced to use the "Nuclear Option" and I'm glad he did.

    December 10, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  15. Silence DoGood

    Have you noticed that conservatives are accusing Obama of doing nothing and also completely taking over the country at the same time?

    Choice #1 – the GOP has succeeded in blocking Obama's evil plans so no harm done to the country.
    Choice #2 – Obama is taking over the country and the GOP is a failure in their ONE objective to block Obama.
    Choice #3 – (reality) – Obama is making some progressive changes despite screaming tantrums from the right

    December 10, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  16. rs

    I'd still like to know what on this round earth you're talking about with the repubs and the federal govt giving money to rich people. I believe that's what you said yesterday. Just what do you mean by that?

    ---------
    Massive tax breaks; corporate socialism [i.e. incentives, tax breaks, industry supports, waivers on regulations, bailouts, etc.]

    December 10, 2013 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  17. Old white conservative male

    @ CNN
    I have to agree with karl from az:
    Hey, have YOU guys at CNN ever heard of 'Freedom of Speech'? Why don't you let both sides of the polical spectrum comment on the board or are you too PC to let the Progressive Liberal lefts feelings get hurt.

    December 10, 2013 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  18. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Screw the GOP and their obstruction and gross incompetentence!!!!!!!!!!!

    December 10, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  19. ARMYCSM

    That Donna is one uninformed puppet.

    December 10, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  20. tom l

    @rs
    "I'd still like to know what on this round earth you're talking about with the repubs and the federal govt giving money to rich people. I believe that's what you said yesterday. Just what do you mean by that?

    ---
    Massive tax breaks; corporate socialism [i.e. incentives, tax breaks, industry supports, waivers on regulations, bailouts, etc.]

    =======

    Aaaah, the mind of the liberal who thinks that making someone pay less in taxes is the equivalent of giving them money. Really shows you the mindset. And, by the way, who was it that touting the return of the auto industry with.....wait for it....bailouts???? So, basically, you should be mad at President Obama as he is the one who gave the auto industry money (literally gave them money).

    By the way, rs, you do realize that when the Bush tax cuts were enacted that revenues to the federal govt went up every single year from 2002-2007, don't you?

    December 10, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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