Senate Votes to Overrule Filibusters of Executive Branch Appointees

By Matt Berman

November 21, 2013

Senate Majority Harry Reid has gone nuclear, and the Senate is (very modestly) changed.

After the Senate again failed to move Patricia Millett's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid challenged the ruling of the chair that 60 votes would be needed.

The Senate then voted, by simple majority, to disapprove of the ruling of the chair. Very few Democrats—Sens. Mark Pryor, Carl Levin, and Joe Manchin—joined Republicans to vote to preserve the 60-vote rule. Reid had 52 Democratic votes (including his own) to support the change.

So from now on, executive and judicial nominees--excluding Supreme Court nominations--can be approved by a simple, 51-vote majority.

In a White House statement, President Obama said he supported the actions by the majority of senators to change the filibuster rules. Though he said Democrats were partially to blame for the way the Senate has gotten over years, he said things have to change.

"Over the six decades before I took office, only 20 presidential nominees to executive positions had to overcome filibusters," Obama said. "In just under five years since I took office, nearly 30 nominees have been treated this way.  These are all public servants who protect our national security, look out for working families, keep our air and water clean. This year alone, for the first time in history, Senate Republicans filibustered a president's nominee for the secretary of Defense who used to be a former Republican senator. They tried everything they could to hold up our EPA Administrator. They blocked our nominee for our top housing regulator at a time when we need more help for more families to afford a home and prevent what has caused mortgage meltdowns from happening again."

"Public service is not a game," Obama said. "It is a privilege," and Americans "deserve better."

At a press conference, Reid said that "this is not a time for celebration." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, is "a day to be sad." Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., echoed McConnell, R-Ky., saying that "today is a sad day."

Asked if he's concerned about McConnell fully doing away with the filibuster, Reid said "Let him do it...Let him do whatever he wants...This is the way it had to be. The Senate has changed."

Sen. Pryor, one of the three Democrats to vote against the rule change, said in a statement that "today's use of the 'nuclear option' could permanently damage the Senate."

Sen. Levin, who also voted against the change, said that "when the precedent is set that a majority can change the rules at will on judges, that precedent will be used to change the rules on consideration of legislation, and down the road, the hard-won protections and benefits for our people's health and welfare will be less secure."

By Matt Berman

November 21, 2013