Still bristling from the biggest Senate rules change in at least three decades on clearing presidential nominees, the chamber’s Republicans are fighting back by slowing their consideration. They have clogged the Senate calendar to prevent Democrats from advancing legislative priorities.
“It truly saddens me that we are seeing a rules change in the United States Senate, where the views of the minority will no longer be considered,” first-term Republican Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska said today in a floor speech.
The Republican strategy risks impeding progress in a chamber already slowed by divides. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who orchestrated the rules change, has lined up a string of additional nominee votes in the coming days.
“I can’t wave a magic wand and heal hurt feelings, but I can appeal to my colleagues to be reasonable and work with us to schedule votes in a timely manner,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters today.
Unless one side relents, it would take a rare weekend Senate session to work through the list before lawmakers can turn to other business, such as the budget accord being considered in the U.S. House.
Reid said today the Senate would vote on the budget deal, legislation authorizing Defense Department operations and a second group of nominees before recessing for the year, probably late next week.
The second batch of nominees probably will include Federal Reserve chairman candidate Janet Yellen. Reid didn’t identify which nominees would be considered next week.
Over Republican objections, the Senate voted Nov. 21 to let a simple majority confirm all nominees except Supreme Court justices, ending a practice by which a single senator could require 60 votes to install presidential picks.
Republicans, now unable to block Obama’s nominees, are using their only remaining leverage: delay.
The Senate debated until after midnight before confirming Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often regarded as the nation’s second highest after the Supreme Court. Senators voted 51-44 to confirm Pillard after 1 a.m.
After 9 a.m. today, the Senate voted 54-41 to confirm Chai Rachel Feldblum as a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and 70-29 to confirm Elizabeth Wolford’s nomination to be a district court judge in western New York.
The chamber later confirmed Landya McCafferty to be a U.S. district judge in New Hampshire by a vote of 79-19 and voted 57-41 to limit debate on Patricia Wald’s nomination to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
The first nominee considered under the new rules was Patricia Millett to be a judge on the D.C. Circuit. She was confirmed 56-38 on Dec. 10.
Republicans then forced almost five hours of debate on Representative Mel Watt’s nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency after it was clear Watt had enough votes. He was confirmed 57-41 on Dec. 10 to lead the FHFA, where he will oversee the future of Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac. (FMCC)
Other Obama selections up for consideration after Wolford include Jeh Johnson for Homeland Security secretary, three other federal judges.
Only two senators questioned Koskinen before the hearing recessed. Republicans then invoked a rule that bars committees from meeting more than two hours after the Senate starts work, which put off the hearing for a day.
The hearing concluded yesterday with no senators voicing opposition to Koskinen. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, set tomorrow for a committee vote, with confirmation by year end for the “critical” position.
Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said this week Republicans may be expressing “resentment” after the rules were changed. The Democrats’ caucus has 55 senators out of 100 members.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said Koskinen’s nomination has been “caught in the web” of the squabble between the parties.
“If the Republicans don’t stand up and let them know that violating the rules like that is a very bad thing,” Hatch said, “then Republicans deserve the criticisms they get.”
Republicans “will use parliamentary procedures when we think it’s in our interest to do so,” said Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican who was instrumental in striking an 11th-hour deal that avoided a July showdown over nominees.
“It won’t be a blanket thing,” McCain said. “We can slow it down,” he added, mentioning Watt’s confirmation as an example.
“They’re arguing at the outset: We didn’t need a rules change. We were ready to cooperate and get these things done,” Durbin said Dec. 10 in an interview. “And now, when we bring up their names, they’re slowing them down, which is a mixed message.”
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