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WH: Rule change due to GOP's 'historic obstructionism'

Confirmation votes on three Obama nominees could come next month.
Nov. 22, 2013 at 11:20 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate confirmation votes on three of President Obama's nominees could come in December since the chamber changed its rules, the White House said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Janet Yellen, Obama's pick to lead the Federal Reserve; Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., tapped to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Jeh Johnson, the nominee to lead Homeland Security, could come up for confirmation votes in December with Democratic majorities, after the Senate voted in a 51-vote threshold to break a filibuster of most presidential appointees, Politico reported.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 52-48 to remove a requirement for a 60-vote majority on nominations other than those to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three Democrats -- Carl Levin of Michigan, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- joined all Republicans in voting against the change.

The Senate action, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "is related to the historic obstructionism that Senate Republicans have engaged in, by any metric -- any metric you put forward, including the rather remarkable one that of the 23 D.C. District Court nominees that have been filibustered -- of the 23 in history, 20 of them have been Obama nominees," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Friday.

"So this is a problem that has broad implications for the capacity of any president to fulfill his or her constitutional duty to nominate highly qualified candidates for the judiciary and for the executive branch. The fact that Senator Reid took this action -- the president supported him in doing that -- only ensures that the president can continue to make choices about highly qualified nominees and that they can now fulfill their responsibilities on the independent judiciary or in the executive branch."

Earnest said the White House believes the change in the filibuster rules is a game-changer for future presidential nominees because the potential field could be expanded. Gone, too, is the prospect of a nominee waiting months to work through a filibuster-threatened confirmation process, he said.

"There have been qualified individuals who have withdrawn from the process because of the obstruction that they faced in the Senate," Earnest said Thursday during a media briefing.

The change -- sometimes called the "nuclear option" because of its potential to destroy bipartisan cooperation in the chamber -- allows most presidential appointments to be ratified with a simple majority.

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