- The Democratic-controlled Senate yesterday changed its longstanding rules to strip the Republican minority of its filibuster power to block many presidential nominations, making it easier to confirm President Obama's appointees but increasing partisan tensions in an already acrimonious chamber.
After threatening to do so for months, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled the trigger on the so-called nuclear option, a series of procedural maneuvers to change Senate rules from requiring a 60-vote threshold for nominees.
With a 52-48 vote, the Senate agreed to consider all executive branch and judicial nominees, except for Supreme Court picks, under a majority-rules system. The Senate has 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents who caucus and usually vote with Democrats.
Three Democrats - Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas - joined all 45 Republicans in opposing the change.
Obama hailed Reid for ending "an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that's prevented too much of the American people's business from getting done."
"Enough is enough. The American people's business is far too important to keep falling prey to Washington politics," the president said at the White House. "A deliberate . . . effort to obstruct everything no matter the merits, just to re-fight the results of an election, is not normal."
Obama had a different opinion when he was in the minority himself in a Republican-led Senate and Republican George W. Bush was in the White House.
"If the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate," he said in 2005, "then the fighting, the bitterness and the gridlock will only get worse."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest pushed back on any talk of a flip-flop, saying circumstances have changed for the worse since 2005. He said there were 59 judicial vacancies when Obama took office. Now, he said, there are 93.