UPDATE: The rules change passed, 48 to 52. Majority Leader Reid passed the decisive 51st vote.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on Thursday morning that he will “go nuclear” by changing the Senate rules to end filibusters of President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, except for the Supreme Court.
The Republican minority has blocked the appointments of Robert Wilkins, Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett, all of the president’s appointments to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, from receiving an up-or-down vote.
All of President George W. Bush’s six appointments to the court — which has jurisdiction over much of the activity of the federal government — were approved by the upper house of Congress. Due to the court’s seniority system, its power is heavily tilted to Republican appointees.
Rather than allowing a vote on the three court vacancies , Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) called for the vacant seats to be removed from the court.
Reid listed a litany of obstruction by Republicans in the Senate, including the unprecedented attempt to use the requirement for 60 votes to eliminate a part of the executive branch, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the attempt to block a Republican nominee for the Secretary of Defense and the successful filibuster of a sitting member of the House of Representatives. More than half of the 168 filibusters in the history of the United States have happened during the Obama administration, he noted. In addition, 75 of Obama’s executive branch nominees are still waiting for confirmation—and they’ve been waiting for 140 days, on average.
Since the Constitution was ratified, 23 district court nominees have been filibustered — 20 of them were nominated by President Obama.
Senate Democrats used this chart to illustrate their point:
“The American people think the Senate is broken,” Reid said, before noting that Democrats have played a part in escalating the use of filibusters.
“It’s time to change the Senate before it becomes obsolete,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded to the majority leader’s speech by accusing Democrats of trying to change the subject from the failure of the Affordable Care Act. “If I were a senator from Oregon, for example, which hasn’t enrolled a single person for the Obamacare exchanges, I’d probably want to talk about something else too,” he said.
He got laughs from his Republican colleagues when he said, “If you like your Senate rules, you can keep them,” referencing the president’s promise about the Affordable Care Act.
McConnell suggested again and again that the court in question doesn’t even have enough to do, though its caseload has been steady over the last few decades, when previous presidents had been permitted to fill it.
The minority leader went on to defend Republican actions as being a “check” on the president. “By any objective standard, Senate Republicans have been very, very fair to this president,” he said.
“You may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” he said. After another attempt to confirm Millett failed, McConnell suddenly adjourned the Senate until 5 PM Thursday, which was rejected by the majority of the Senate.