Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Democrats in the Senate voted to limit filibusters so they cannot be used against most presidential nominations, enabling the so-called "nuclear option" after Republicans in the minority blocked the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit court.
Passing the measure 52 to 48, Democrats ushered in a change that has been threatened in the face of obstruction for more than a decade, over opposition that the change in rules would allow the majority to run roughshod over the minority.
"You think this is in the best interest of the United States Senate and the American people?” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked, sounding incredulous. “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this. And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”
But Majority Leader Harry Reid, who showed increasing impatience with the historic intransigence in Congress's upper chamber, said the third consecutive filibuster of a nominee to the D.C. court forced his hand.
“The need for change is so, so very obvious," Reid said. "It is clearly visible. It is time to get the Senate working.”
Speaking after the vote Thursday afternoon, President Barack Obama praised the Senate's move.
"The vote today, I think, is an indication that a majority of senators believe, as I believe, that enough is enough," the president said. "The American people's business is far too important to keep falling prey day after day to Washington politics."
He noted that while the Senate had used a filibuster has been in play since 1917, when the Senate set up rules for cloture motions, requiring 60 members to agree to hold an up-or-down vote, the tactic has been used to an extreme against his nominees.
"In each of these cases, it's not been because they opposed the person, that there was some assessment that they were unqualified, that there was some scandal that had been unearthed," Obama lamented. "It was simply because they opposed the policies that the American people voted for in the last election."
Four out of President George W. Bush's six nominees to the D.C. court, the nation's second-highest judicial body and a stepping stone to the Supreme Court, were confirmed. The Senate has halted all but one of Obama's five nominees, three in just the past month.
Senate Republicans had said they would not allow any more nominations to the 11-seat bench, which currently has just eight full-time judges.
The Constitution gives the president the power to appoint federal judges with the "advice and consent of the Senate," and Democrats said the minority was preventing Obama from completing his constitutionally mandated duties.
Now, thanks to the rule change, executive nominees -- other than Supreme Court justices -- will only require a simple majority of 50 votes.
[Republican.Senate.gov] [United States Senate Democrats]