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November 01, 2013

Senate votes change in filibuster rules

The Senate invoked the “nuclear option” Nov. 21 and voted 52-48 to change Senate rules to provide that a simple majority of 51 votes, rather the current 60, will be required to invoke cloture to end filibusters of executive and judicial nominees, with the exception of nominees to the Supreme Court.

Normally, 67 votes are required to change the Senate rules, but the nuclear option allows the majority party to propose rule changes that may be approved by a simple majority vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), frustrated with the Senate’s inability to garner the 60 votes to end debate and bring several of President Obama’s nominations up for a vote, said of the change: “It is time to get the Senate working.”

Immediately after the rule change was adopted, cloture was invoked to cut off debate by a vote of 55-43 on a motion to reconsider the nomination of Patricia Millett to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Millett is one of three nominees for that circuit whose nominations have been stalled because of Republican filibusters this past month (see article, page 5). Her confirmation vote is scheduled for Dec. 9 after the Senate returns from its Thanksgiving recess.

President Obama offered his support for the Senate’s action in a statement from the White House.               

 “All too often we’ve seen a single senator or a handful of senators choose to abuse arcane procedural tactics to unilaterally block bipartisan compromises or to prevent well-qualified, patriotic Americans from filling critical positions of public service in our system of government,” he said, emphasizing that “neither party has been blameless for these tactics.”

Obama said the obstruction is even worse for judicial nominations than for the executive branch. He pointed out that his judicial nominees have waited nearly two and a half times longer to receive yes or no votes on the Senate floor than those of his predecessor. Those who do get a vote are confirmed with little if any dissent, he said.

 “So this isn’t obstruction on substance, on qualifications. It’s just to gum up the works,” he said. “And this gridlock has not served the cause of justice. In fact, it’s undermined it,” he concluded.

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