Democrats end Senate tradition, trigger ‘nuclear option’ to ram through Obama’s judicial nominees

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But Mr. Obama said Republicans’ use of the filibuster is worse.

“It’s no longer used in a responsible way to govern. It’s rather used as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt. And that’s not what our founders intended, and it’s certainly not what our country needs right now,” he said.

In the near term, the move will help speed through Mr. Obama’s nominees for chairman of the Federal Reserve and secretary of the Homeland Security Department.

Down the road, the changes could help Mr. Obama win confirmation on some of the more obscure but powerful federal boards that issue rules and decisions that make up much of the work of the federal government.

The timing of the vote struck Republicans as suspicious, particularly because the numbers show that Republicans have not filibustered many of Mr. Obama’s judicial picks.

Indeed, until the most recent push to put judges on the D.C. appeals court, Republicans had helped confirm 215 judges and filibustered just two.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Democrats are reeling from a disastrous rollout of Obamacare and needed to try to change the headlines.

“There’s a lot of nervousness on the Democrat side. They’re in a panic about Obamacare. The majority leader is desperately trying to change the subject. We want to get back on the subject,” Mr. McConnell said.

Three Democrats voted against the change: Michigan’s Carl Levin, Arkansas’ Mark L. Pryor and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III.

“Today’s use of the ‘nuclear option’ could permanently damage the Senate and have negative ramifications for the American people,” Mr. Pryor said. “During my time in the Senate, I’ve played key roles in the Gang of 14 and other bipartisan coalitions to help us reach common-sense solutions that both sides of the aisle can support. This institution was designed to protect — not stamp out — the voices of the minority.”

Mr. Reid’s move is known as the nuclear option because it requires complex parliamentary procedures and changing the rules in the middle of the session through a simple majority vote. The Senate usually must change its rules through a two-thirds vote, which is one way the chamber enforces comity — something that sets it apart from the partisan House of Representatives.

The new rules don’t technically end the filibuster, but they reduce the vote total needed to cut off a filibuster from 60 to a simple majority — the same level needed for confirmation.

The chamber still will have to abide by the time limits that accompany filibusters, which allow for up to 30 hours of debate once a filibuster has been defeated.

Senate Republicans came close to doing a similar sort of rules change in 2005, when Democrats pioneered the practice of filibustering Mr. Bush’s appeals court nominees.

Republicans backed down when a bipartisan group emerged and settled on a gentleman’s agreement that headed off the rules change but preserved the right to filibuster.

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