Senate GOP blocks two Obama nominees, Dems hold fire in response
October 31st, 2013
05:00 PM ET
9 years ago

Senate GOP blocks two Obama nominees, Dems hold fire in response

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.

Filed under: Senate • Senate Republicans
soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. allenwoll

    The BIG FAIL here is the inaction and lack of resolve shown by the (now small) honorable section of the GoP to root out the Radical Extremists and Subversives. . That makes them accessories to this fraud - Worse even than the direct perpetrators ! ! !
    It will take decades to recover - IF EVER ! ! !
    In the meantime, our politics is hamstrung by the lack of a CREDIBLE, HONORABLE Conservative voice - We just have these "cute" little Palinesque kiddie CONservatives scurrying pointlessly about, spreading destruction wherever they land ! ! !

    October 31, 2013 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  2. joe

    s a independent voter i will never forget the disrespect the GOP has shown toward our president. the republican party has not lifted a single finger to help the president which in turn has hurt our country and the american people. the GOP has repeatedly put their own selfish needs ahead of the country. it is shameless and sickening. as long or until a real man steps up and takes on the extremists in the republican party i will never ever consider voting for the GOP.

    October 31, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  3. carlos blanco

    Can't wait November 2013 all conservative tea party politicians out of office!!!!

    October 31, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  4. Edwin

    So if a court might have more republican appointees (like the Supreme Court), that is FAIR - but if a lesser court might have more democrats, that is somehow UNFAIR?

    Why am I not surprised that republicans use that kind of logic?

    October 31, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  5. Snarky MacFee

    Here we go again. Bunch of out of touch trust fund babies throwing hissies.

    October 31, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  6. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    Enough of this nonsense... Nuke 'em Harry!

    October 31, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  7. JV

    Good. Everyone BO has nominated so far has been a utter failure. Good work Repubs.

    October 31, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  8. And the beat goes on...

    dems shot themselves in the foot with this one; they had a chance to change the filibuster rules at the start of the new Congress and failed to do so. live with the consequences of your decision Mr. Reid...

    October 31, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  9. Gilbert Leo

    The world is watching GOP. Mr Rogers demonstrated a level of maturity that does not exist in Congress.

    October 31, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  10. ghostwriter

    And the record number of filibusters continue. All over totally unrelated issues. These excuses they are giving are not the ones they gave before. They are doing so over Benghazi. Or the IRS....or one of the manufactured scandals they have so much fake outrage over.

    October 31, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  11. Huff

    Obstuctionism??? Seriously? The panel is balanced as it should be. The Dems want another member to offset that balance in their favor. There is no need for another member. Dems need to justify why another member is needed before proceeding. 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? Dems have obstructed nearly anything and everything from the GOP. Only a politically blind person would believe its all one sided.

    October 31, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  12. Bill Davis

    Oh look the GOP keeps voting against America.

    October 31, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  13. Brendie

    GOP = Out of Control
    Now all we need is VTOOO = Vote them out of office

    October 31, 2013 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  14. Walt

    Just another example of Republicans being nothing more than obstructionists. Continuing to throw a temper tantrum, like a spoiled 2 year old, if they don't always get their way.

    October 31, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  15. tlm

    JP....he never has gotten anything from the obstructionist GOP so what is new with that? FYI...there is no Obamacare fiasco just made up outrage per usual with the ignorance that is the right.

    October 31, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  16. Edwin

    @2020, I like your idea - set aside a portion of their salary that is only awarded based on the number of 'actual governmental tasks' that they accomplish.

    We would have to have a Constitutional Amendment to do this, but I think the support would be OVERWHELMING from the states. Unfortunately, both the House and Senate must first approve of the amendment to hurt their salaries - and I just don't think they will for some reason.

    October 31, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  17. harrisonhits2

    The human filth of congress are at it again. Both parties are utterly and hopelessly corrupt and do ZERO for this country except steal its wealth for themselves and their corporate owners.

    October 31, 2013 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Republicans are sending a clear message to Obama.....WORK WITH US. However, Obama is not listening.

    October 31, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  19. Craig

    Time to go nuclear. These folks simply refuse to understand that we cannot and will not allow tyranny of the minority to destroy the country. Take them out of play NOW!

    October 31, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  20. ShawnDH

    Republicans HATE democracy. We voted for Obama.

    October 31, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  21. PushingBack

    Well surprise, surprise! Not really though from the GOP. Surprise is what we need to give them starting in the next election cycle.

    October 31, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  22. Data Driven

    "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."


    More sedition from the GOP.

    October 31, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  23. Jim

    And around we go. I hate the GOP with such a passion now, that I worry I will be blinded when voting because I my passionate hate is so deep thanks to these antics I feel like I will NEVER vote GOP. They would have to switch roles like they did decades ago where Southern Dems turned republicans. Or there would need to be a massive overhaul where most are independents and you vote on the person and their individual idea's. As it stands, the GOP bringing America down for their personal gain, they are doing everything in their power for the sake of winning elections, America itself be damned.

    October 31, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  24. srcactus

    Imagine; these fine creators of Obamacare being called into question for their objectivity? Partisan politics is a two sided affair and the leadership needs to correct the deficit. Until and unless sanity returns to Washington and the partisan games are ended we goin' nowhere!

    October 31, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC

    A True Conservative

    Well Mr. President, it seems that someone besides you can say no.....perhaps they will negotiate with you....just like you did a few weeks back.......
    Had the Republicans brought something to the table to negotiate with besides, "we're shutting down the government", then the President might have considered it. The Republican offer amounted to the old Soviet offer during nuclear arms talks, "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is negotiable." In this case, the only thing being negotiated was the existence of the ACA.

    "Give it to us, so that we can kill it." "Gives us an arm off of it, so that we can kill it later." That's not negotiation, it's terrorism.

    October 31, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
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