WASHINGTON - Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate's minority party, Democrats on Monday are ready to begin muscling through President Obama's nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month's Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama's appointments.
Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber's work to a crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
"There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate," said Robert Dove, the Senate's former longtime parliamentarian.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill, and other lingering items.
It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the changes.
First day back
Monday's meeting marks the chamber's first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.
Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama's nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush's judicial nominees.
On Monday, the Senate will vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Millett is a prominent private lawyer who worked in the solicitor general's office under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, arguing 32 cases before the Supreme Court.
Her nomination was viewed as key by both sides. The appeals court is disproportionately powerful because it rules on White House actions and federal agency rules. Her ascension will tip the balance of that circuit's judges to five appointed by Democratic presidents, four by Republicans.
Over the next two weeks, Reid plans to push five more major nominees through the Senate.
They include Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve. There are also two more Obama picks for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. court - attorney Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins.
There is little doubt all five will be approved. But time-consuming GOP delays are possible.