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

    Oh, the horror!!!!! Majority ruled!!!! Where oh where has democracy gone!?!?!?!?!

    December 10, 2013 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  2. just asking

    and so begins the stacking of the courts by obama with far left judges. democrats prove once again they are willing to do anything to jam their far left agenda down the throat of the american people.

    December 10, 2013 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  3. Warren

    nana bobo Now what are the obstructive GOP going to do?

    December 10, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  4. Donna

    Just remember who broke the rules to change the rules Democrats... Just like you clowns inventing gerrymandering and now complaining about it endlessly. When the shoe is on the other foot and the Democrats are in the minority in the Senate come 2015, we don't want to hear any whining and compalaining about the rights of the minority being trampled.

    December 10, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  5. Warren

    just asking
    and so begins the stacking of the courts by obama with far left judges. democrats prove once again they are willing to do anything to jam their far left agenda down the throat of the american people.

    It'a called Majority rules!!! deal with it..

    December 10, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  6. Rudy NYC

    just asking

    and so begins the stacking of the courts by obama with far left judges. democrats prove once again they are willing to do anything to jam their far left agenda down the throat of the american people.
    --------------------
    Only 38 votes opposed it. Yeah, only 56 voted in favor, but your side missed the opportunity to step up to the plate with 41. In other words, all of your complaints are actually pretty meaningless, ;pointless, and of course, non-stop endless.

    December 10, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  7. Tampa Tim

    Stacking of the courts is a Limbaugh talking point. Then Hannity hopped on the bandwagon, none of which is true. But the brilliance of Mitch McConnell to obstruct three appointments on the DC court, will lead to filling the other 95 openings nationally. Thanks Mitch, for being stupid.

    December 10, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  8. ghostwriter

    Just asking.....what was it called when republican presidents nominated republican judges? Ohhh.....I remember....it was called a normal day in DC.

    The president gets to appoint judges. Elections do have consequences.

    When can we expect your Rush-approved outrage over house republicans changing rules to make sure their Cruz-approved shutdown went according to plan?

    December 10, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  9. kylefromohio

    About time Congress does it's job. Vote yeah or nay but vote. And this stacking the courts stuff, please be more aware of your, our american history. It could be debated that anytime a judge is confirmed that is stacking the courts.

    December 10, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. PaulCat

    Stacking of the Courts, well someone is watching Fox News again.

    December 10, 2013 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  11. Imjesayin

    Hey "Just Asking"- You mean like Bush did with young Supreme Court justices? And please don't pretend you know the first thing about her politics. She is an AUSA. Those are hardly liberal types. Nice try!

    December 10, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  12. just asking

    ghostwriter
    Just asking.....what was it called when republican presidents nominated republican judges? Ohhh.....I remember....it was called a normal day in DC.
    --

    all republican judges appointed got 60 votes. these are just judges approved by mob rule, which is the democrat way now. just remember this when you are in the minority deomcrats. you'll also be swallowing hard, and sitting there steamimg. just remember, you did it to yourself.

    December 10, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  13. Simplyput

    Has anyone asked themselves how there came to be over 95 empty seats in the judiciary? Asleep at the wheel for over 5 years or obstruction?

    December 10, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. sonny chapman

    Violence begets violence.

    December 10, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  15. DC Johnny

    And let it be known that in the year 2013, America lurched evermore to the left as the tyrannical liberty-seizing president stacked courts in such a way that his ideological agenda will always be approved, and any future contrary policy will be easily challenged and overturned.

    December 10, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. just asking

    Imjesayin
    Hey "Just Asking"- You mean like Bush did with young Supreme Court justices?
    -–

    a rather dumb comment.... they all got 60 votes or more. what the heck does age have to do with anything? some of the liberals supremes have been on there for decades doing damage to this country.

    December 10, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  17. rs

    38 more to go.

    December 10, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. 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

    December 10, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  19. John

    When the Dems were filibustering some Dubya nominations, the right was SCREAMING that that was wrong, that the pres had the right to nominate anyone he wanted and the Senate should approve or disapprove with a vote and no filibustering to block it. AND the Dems did that on WAY fewer nominations than the GOP is now. But it's ok for the GOP to do it now cause the guy in the White House is a Dem and SHOULD have all his nominations blocked cause he'll just pack the courts with left socialist communists. But it was OK for Dubya to pack the courts with right wingers, since that's ok.
    What ever way the pendulum is swinging everyone on the other side is complaining about how wrong it is.

    December 10, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  20. rs

    just asking

    and so begins the stacking of the courts by obama with far left judges. democrats prove once again they are willing to do anything to jam their far left agenda down the throat of the american people.
    ____________________
    It isn't "stacking" when they are existing, empty judicial positions that have been unreasonably blocked by the hopeless GOP of the Senate (Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell- are your ears burning?).

    December 10, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  21. JeffreyRO5

    The GOP sure paid a high price for obstructing two or three judges they liked, but just didn't want Obama to appoint. Now Obama will be able to fill many of the empty 93 judicial vacancies, thanks to the new rules. You can't say it too many times: the GOP is not bright!

    December 10, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  22. Greg

    There is no "stacking" when vacant positions are filled. Stacking is creating new positions in order to change a court's makeup. The use of filibuster tactics to block nominees is an abuse of power. Whether it's a GOP or a Democratic president, it's time to let 50 votes rule. If a president nominates extreme candidates, then it's up to the voters to address that in the next election.

    December 10, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  23. karl from az

    And so continues the TOTAL CORRUPTION of our judicial system!

    December 10, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  24. karl from az

    Hey, have YOU guys at CNN ever heard of 'Freedom of Speech'?

    December 10, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  25. rs

    Donna

    Just remember who broke the rules to change the rules Democrats... Just like you clowns inventing gerrymandering and now complaining about it endlessly. When the shoe is on the other foot and the Democrats are in the minority in the Senate come 2015, we don't want to hear any whining and compalaining about the rights of the minority being trampled.
    ______________________
    Donna- Laws and appointmennts as a rule pass by simple majority (51 of 100 votes). The GOP through the creative use of the "silent hold" and the "filibuster" have made every vote in the Senate by "super majority" or 61 of 100 votes which is one less than the Democratic Senatorial majority. That's why everything is so clogged up by the obstructionist, anti-American GOP. The Democrats simply ent back to the rules AS THEY ARE WRITTEN.
    I guess you were okay with the House changing the voting rules so they could shutdown the government and try to make America default on her financial obligations, right?

    December 10, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
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