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

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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. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    "Iā€™m pleased that in a bipartisan vote, the Senate has confirmed Patricia Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, filling a vacancy that has been open since 2005.
    Righties are freaking out. "We can no longer hold up the President's nominees and nullify his presidency." I don't see how you call it "packing the court" when the seat's been vacant since 2005. Give me a break.

    December 10, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  2. Sam Adams

    This now tilts the balance of federal judges to the Dems by 1: 391 to 390, totally unbalancing the federal bench by a huge margin. The talking heads will throw tantrums now that the strategy employed previously has failed and the backlash begun.

    December 10, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  3. TONE

    America get rid of Republicans in congress, come 2014 send them back to their old jobs as snake oil salesman, Mr president stack the courts.

    December 10, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  4. CryBabies

    Gonna come back to bite you Democrats!

    December 10, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC


    Just remember who broke the rules to change the rules Democrats...
    No one broke the rules. Make sure you remember why they did it. Republicans were filibustering nominees before a person could even be nominated. The worse part about it is that the silent filibuster rule allows them to do it in complete obscurity.

    December 10, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. Flagship, NC

    Harry Reid,
    Thank you for having the GUTS and WISDOM to take care of the country's business!
    You're the man!

    December 10, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  7. Thomas

    @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.


    do you and Donna work in the same bunker .

    Do you get paid to post here , yes or no .

    you never answer that question .

    December 10, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. B.O.B.

    When a republican president nominated a republican judge it was called fillibuster, which was allowed under the constitution. The fillibuster provision was put in place to REQUIRE that both sides ultimately agree, to a certain extent, that the nominee was both qualified and unbiased. In the most recent past, the minority party (both repubs and dems) has used the fillibuster to blanketly oppose judicial nominees without a true objection to qualifications. The idea of changing a law simply because you can't gain acceptance will have unintended consequences and simply provides the repubs hour upon hour of current dem politicians (from the President, down through both houses) stating how unAmerican excluding this provision would be when the repubs were discussing it, and now turning into the champion of fillibuster-proofing nominees. Once again, I believe this was a shortsighted solution that will ultimately bite the dems, but was born out of the dysfunctional relationships between the two parties.

    December 10, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  9. John

    they changed the rules because they (dems) knew that they couldn't get 60 votes for a unqualified candidate. Now they have a unqualified candidate with a simple majority. This will come back around soon enough. The rules WERE fine when the dems used them but now if it doesn't fit the agenda...change them by whatever means possible

    December 10, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  10. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    There are rules and there are politics so don't get the two confused.

    December 10, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  11. Luke

    The huge hidden problem with these nominees is that they have lifetime appointments. Even when Obama is a distant memory, the legacy of his judicial appointments will live on.

    December 10, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  12. DavidH

    The number of votes against is pretty disgusting and a reflection of the partisanship in the Senate and the attempt on the part of some to "freeze" the balance toward conservative, pro-business judges in the court system.. In the old days, this nominee would have sailed through. The vast majority of the nominees are not "liberal" judges, contrary to what is being suggested, and many have very good track records as judges or lawyers, middle ot the road.

    December 10, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. sly

    Thank you President Obama for another great, progressive, bi-partisan appointment.

    These are good times in America, especially since we are letting our President govern. He is a smart leader.

    December 10, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  14. james Pfeiffer

    While half of America fumbles, emails, and texts with their new, indespensible smart phones while driving and while Americans beat each other up at Walmart trying to get that special, on-sale, 32 inch LED TV, democracy as we know it is rapidly slipping away. One morning we'll wake up and our heat and electricity will be off because these multi-millionare congressmen/women who, masking as duly elected officials, are nothing more than plutocrats living high off the dying hog, will have shut down the government in the guise of being fiscally prudent! The moral decay of this country is just getting up to speed.

    December 10, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. Tampa Tim

    Just – you do realize that Clarence Thomas got 52 votes, not the 60 you wrote.

    December 10, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  16. 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?

    December 10, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  17. Edoggy

    The reason for the rule is because the GOP will never agree to any of the President's appointments. Not based on qualifications or anything like that, just simply being antagonist. Now you have posters calling the person appointed and approved 'unqualified'. At a time when Nelson Mandela is being recognized for his courageous battle with apartheid, the true colors of the GOP is demonstrated time and time again. If the President were not black, most of his appointees would have been approved, but we like to show how racist politicians work in the US. Sad state.

    December 10, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  18. Tampa Tim

    Even when the Bushes and Reagan are distant memories, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito continue to legislate from the bench.

    December 10, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  19. Tampa Tim

    The only way the republicans can win the presidency is through voter suppression.

    December 10, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  20. John the Electrician

    To the right wing nationalists, anybody that isn't with them is against them. They even consider the Pope a marxist.

    December 10, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    just asking wrote:

    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.
    The only party attempting to stack the deck is the Republicans. There are several empty seats that need to be filled, but Republicans are stalling for time until they can get someone into the White House to make the appointments. The only people the Republicans are fooling are themselves. It's insulting that they regard the public with such disdain and being so ignorant.

    December 10, 2013 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  22. Duke

    My goodness, so much rude behavior...

    If we want to really go back to the beginning of the hypocricy, we have to go back decades, however I clearly remember the GOP has done a LOT more judical blocking that the Dems. The new level of blocking almost before names are anounced is pure GOP.

    They are supposed to get business done. It ain't getting done. Go Dems for getting the work pocessed.

    December 10, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  23. tom l

    No Sniffy ā€“ Congress and Democrats need to be treated better than everybody else. More free stuff for the Democrat else can the votes be bought?
    Free Stuff? What on Earth, and not the flat Earth, either, what on Earth are you folks on the right talking about? This "free stuff" that you're talking about are the benefits packages that members of Congress and their staffs have been receiving for decades. All of a sudden, a new health care reform law is passed and now those same old benefits are labeled as "free stuff"?


    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?

    December 10, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. Tampa Tim

    I think that Boehner, by changing the rules in the house, will lose his speakership.

    December 10, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  25. just asking

    When the Dems were filibustering some Dubya nominations

    so the democrats did it with bush and that was ok, but now somehow it is bad and the senate had to change to mob rule??

    just remember democrats, when the senate goes bye bye in 2015, the gloves come off big time. just remember, you started this very uncivil behavior. don't expect to be treated nicely down the road after this when you in the minority.

    December 10, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
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