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. Me


    Wow, this is exhausting... Their hatred is so strong that it's made it all but impossible for President Obama to govern. Imagine how far along we could be in our economic recovery right now if we didn't have to waste time with block nominations, 45 votes to repeal ObamaCare, over 450 fake filibusters, nearly crashing the Federal government and host of other mindless pursuits... If I'm exhausted just watching, I can't even imagine how tired and over it the President must be...
    Didn't take long for the it is everyone elses fault but Obama's crowd!!! Ya it is the GOP's fault that Obama has NO leadership skills, you just keep telling yourself that!!! LMFAO

    October 31, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  2. kellyplozai

    Forget this, lets just send in a bunch of six-year-olds to do the job. They would do a better job at compromise, in addition to having less tantrums.

    October 31, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  3. Jeff

    I think all of Obama's nominees should be blocked from now own. All his "Czars" were crooks, silibus is junk, Holder is a crook, tim giethner didnt pay his taxes. Jeff imelt sent all the jobs to chine.

    October 31, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  4. EX-Republican

    This is why I will never vote republican again.

    October 31, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  5. VJ

    @d, they are going to work for 16 days remainder of this year.. It is really insane...

    October 31, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  6. Phil in KC

    I forget what it's called, but can't Obama just wait until they adjourn for the holidays and make the appointments in absentia?

    October 31, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Sniffit wrote:

    In fact, it's just secession by another name. Forced to accept that they'd never be able to secede in the manner attempted in the 1860's, they've switched over to trying to accomplish the same result by simply destroying the federal gov't from top to bottom, whether that be by defunding things so they cannot function properly or by preventing agencies from having chief executives, or by refusing to allow judicial appointments so that an entire branch of the federal gov't simply collapses under its caseload, etc. Call it what it is: secession...and the "South" trying to "rise again."
    Yes, exactly. Seccession is one way to describe what they're doing. Republican politicians have spoken their intentions quite clearly. The Paul clan wants to get rid of the Federal Reserve. Rick Perry wants to get rid of a few major departmetns in the government. Too many to mention politicians have advocated repealing or revising several Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, particularly the 14th.

    Santorum has flat out said that he thinks the 1st Amendment's separation of church and state is "totally wrong", and conservatives everywhere seem to agree with him. In fact, the entire right wing seems to think that the Bill of Rights begins with the 2nd Amendment.

    October 31, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  8. Plus 68

    The GOP does so much to hurt the American people by using their positions to stop just about everything tht would be of help. They are the party of " DESTROYERS " and should not be retained any longer.

    October 31, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  9. ED1

    Mel Watts doesn't have a clue about running a department to begin with and if we don't need another judge so be it.

    When will the die hard liberals see we can't continue spending money we don't have and appointing people that don't have a clue about how to run a business.

    October 31, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  10. Steve Allard

    On one hand I'm amazed and flabbergasted at the GOP behavior because it is so shameful. On the other hand I'm grateful they are not playing more intelligently in order to win over independents. Their approach seems to be "what you see is what you get" and I sure don't want any of what they've got.

    October 31, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  11. sly

    The Republican Party is the party of obstruction, and in many cases, treasonous Confederates who should be executed.

    This party is a loser – no ideas in 10 years, and their only goal is for America to collapse.

    Democrats should definately change the Senate rules. How could anyone wonder why we spy on these terrorists – I say wiretap them, video them, catch them in their crimes. Then, fry em.

    October 31, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  12. NickAnast

    Nuke 'em.

    October 31, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  13. Me


    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.
    SHHHHHH, don't tell the dems on here actual facts, I don't think they can handle them right now! They must stay in their own little fairytale world!! LMFAO

    October 31, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  14. jesus67666676

    Huh... republicans blocking something obama wants to do... never seen that before. Well atleast not in the past week or so...

    Round and round we go.

    October 31, 2013 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
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