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. ShawnDH

    JP whined: "After Obama's Obamacare fiasco does this President think he will get anything from the GOP?"

    After the GOP's shutdown disaster, do any Americans care what Republicans think? About anything? Nope. By the way, my REPUBLICAN aunt just signed up for health insurance trhough the exchange and will save over $600.00 a month. She realizes she was LIED to by Republicans CRAZIES..

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

    The GOP party as a whole is ill qualified to tell whether someone is qualified or not, especially in matters of the economy. They brought this country to a deficit and almost destroyed the economy.. The GOP have done nothing but obstruct the last 6 years. I wish they would do something that is good for this country for a change or positive?

    October 31, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  3. Bill

    We all complain, but we keep voting the same jokers in. Look at Senator Vitter from Louisiana. He votes against everything for middle class and poor, but the middle class of Louisiana keeps on sending him to Washington. What has he done with trying to keep the National Flood Insurance affordable in his home state. This is an effort the both senators should be in favor of. In fact every Senator across the East, West, and gulf Coasts States should be pushing fore. Also all those state senators along the Mississippi, Delaware, and all those rivers that cause so much havock. What the government should be doing is going after all those who fraudulately steal from the insurance companies, pension, plans, social security, food stamp program. Also all of us including you should blow the whistle on these people who commit thes criminal acts. You all see them in Wal-mart eating the food before they hit the cashier booth.

    October 31, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  4. mehrrh

    The Republicans apparently don't believe the polls of public opinion - or else they figure that they can't get much lower so they will continue to obstruct everyone and everything.
    They were elected to govern, but they obviously hate government.
    They are supposed to serve the people, but they are beholden to their ideology.
    They are failing in their oaths, they are failing as politicians.
    Their party should suffer in oblivion for a generation and wait for a new group of Republicans actually want to serve the country.

    October 31, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  5. raul c.

    Here we go from those clowns at the GOP. Same old idiot bs, block nominees, hypocrisity on the ACA, shutdown the government, no jobs bills, etc. What they know or don't care is in 2014 and 2016 we the People are going to him them a fiesta and they'll be the pinata. Just mark my word..

    October 31, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  6. RickFromTexas

    Remember all of this in 2014, folks. If you're as sick as the rest of us are of GOP sabotage, congressional gridlock, shutdowns, and threatening to default on the US's financial obligations, 2014 is the time to take congress away from The Stupid Party.

    October 31, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  7. A True Conservative

    All the outrage from the progressives – the GOParen't playing nice....yea....kind of like a President who said give me absolutely everything i want and THEN I will think about negotiating. This man and the Dems in Congress do not understand negotiation and compromise.They are like a buch of school children..."I won, I won!!!". So? That's why we live in a Republic instead of a democracy.....or didn't they take that class in school...I'd check Obamas...transcripts to see if he did....if only he would allow us to see anything about his education.....

    October 31, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  8. Ann Terhune

    I do fear for the future of this country when there is so much unnecessary divisiveness.

    October 31, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  9. Marie MD

    @JP, your teaklans have been standing in the way of progress since January 2009 when they had their secret meeting to make sure our duly twice elected President couldn't get anything done.
    The computer glitch can and will. E fixed.
    The hatred of these klan members is forever! Dam the country is their motto led by a Canadian who thinks he can run for president of the US. I would love for him, REALLY, to try that in Cuba (sincehis crazy papi is Cuban). He would disappear faster than you can say what? El Morro sharks need to be fed.

    October 31, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  10. VETSV

    its absolutely ridiculous that these republican members of Congress/Senate did nothing other than obstructing the functioning of the Govt. They do that for everything and then they go on higher moral ground holding hearings into the failures of the Govt. Obamacare is Health insurance plan by the govt for the people how come these people in congress n senate are not held liable for never working on it. they did nothing other than just pass laws to defeat the insurance bill and when the govt hit the snafu in its launch they all came in asking for heads .. Do you think people are so dumb that they dont see this obstructionism and non governance of republicans? I believe they are because they keep electing these clowns. Get back to work and do something constructive if u cannot just leave and go to ur hole. I mean they try every thing to make this Govt incapable of working and then come back to people saying elect us this Govt is not working.. arggggggg this frustrating and people are just buying this BS and it seems they will keep buying it..we are not United States any more we are divide n rule states

    October 31, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  11. Bring it back!

    The Nopublicans are at it again I see.

    October 31, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  12. NYVeteran

    The party of no strikes again. Cant wait to vote next week!

    October 31, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  13. md

    love all the "repubs are always blocking everything" cries. Maybe you should listen to what they are saying!?!

    Not enough work to warrant filling vacant position.....hmmm, BUDGET SAVINGS!!!!
    Not independent or qualified.....hmmm, for a non-government position?!? Why would you do that??

    Maybe not putting unqualified or unneeded people in place is what will finally make it work!!!!

    October 31, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  14. No?

    Who could predict the party of "no" would do this.

    October 31, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  15. john

    Republicans doing what they do best.........

    October 31, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  16. Exit 36-B

    The only qualification Mel Watt brings is as representative of the most shamelessly gerrymandered district in the entire country.

    October 31, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  17. Fred Evil

    "GOP blocks"
    That's about all they can do. They don't lead, they don't compromise, they don't come together, they just BLOCK.

    October 31, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  18. Joe06042

    "A True Conservative" showing your true colors – not allowing a democratic vote on nominees because you were not successful in defunding the AHCA??? Running our government is not a game – on the other hand you "True Conservatives" have turned it into a hunger game competition. How absurd and pitiful, proving again you are not focused on allowing our democratic government to function, only on hindering it in any possible way because you lost on the AHCA and want the President to fail at every opportunity....BTW I once considered myself a conservative, voted for Reagan, voted against Clinton, voted for both Bushes, but the GOP is no longer the viable voice for conservatives – only for the fanatic Tea Partyers that have hijacked it. How sad.

    October 31, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  19. Leo

    These nut jobs need to go...NOW!, if they don't want perpetual war they want to destroy any recover the country may have unless it has a republican brand, if Obama is for it, they are against it, if he is against it, they are for it, I wonder just what that shrinking 12% is drinking to support these clowns. We are the laughing stock of the world for cryin out loud.

    October 31, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  20. smc

    Why is this front page news? Real news would be if Republicans ever stopped trying to block everything in government.

    October 31, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  21. floyd from illinois

    Can't those banned word Republicans figure out that this sort of equine excrement obstructinism just makes them loook bad?

    October 31, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  22. Steve

    Just think, the GOP politicians expects voters to reward them with more power next year. They are delusional!

    October 31, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  23. Dennis Freeman

    The Tea Party/GOP is at it again – time to "go nuclear." They are nothing more than domestic/political terrorists.

    October 31, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  24. RL

    They are doing this for spite. I wish they would all grow up and act like adults. This is complete nonsense. They are fools.

    October 31, 2013 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  25. freeme10

    New day, same old obstructionist GOP.

    October 31, 2013 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
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