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Senate Democrats Poised to Block Filibusters of Presidential Picks

[Questions for students:

What is Filibuster? Why does a democratic process allow the minority to prevent the majority from passing a vote?

Background info:

In Chinese, it is often translated as 冗长辩论,台湾俗称”费力把事拖”]


Senate Democrats Poised to Block Filibusters of Presidential Picks


Published: November 20, 2013


WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are on the verge of moving to eliminate the use of the filibuster against most presidential nominees, aides and senior party leaders said Wednesday, a move that would deprive Republicans of their ability to block President Obama’s picks for cabinet posts and the federal judiciary and further erode what little bipartisanship still exists in the Senate.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, is poised to move forward on Thursday with a vote on what is known on Capitol Hill as the “nuclear option,” several Democrats said. Mr. Reid and the senators who have been the most vocal on stopping the Republican blockade of White House nominees are now confident they have the votes to make the change.


“We’re not bluffing,” said one senior aide who has spoken with Mr. Reid directly and expects a vote on Thursday, barring any unforeseen breakthrough on blocked judges.


The threat that Democrats could significantly limit how the filibuster can be used against nominees has rattled Republicans. Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has brokered last-minute deals that have averted a change to filibuster rules in the past, visited Mr. Reid in his office on Thursday but failed to strike a compromise.


Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa took to the Senate floor and denounced Democrats, saying that if they changed the rules, Republicans would consider them applicable to all judicial nominees, including those for the Supreme Court. Mr. Reid has said he supports keeping intact the minority party’s ability to filibuster controversial Supreme Court nominees.


“Apparently the other side wants to change the rules while still preserving the ability to block a Republican president’s ability to replace a liberal Supreme Court Justice with an originalist,” Mr. Grassley said.


Senate Democrats appear ready to take a step that members of each party have threatened for the better part of a decade, but have not taken, in part because of the political disruption it would create. But senators know this year’s majority could be tomorrow’s minority, yearning for the filibuster as a weapon.


The problem, as Democrats see it, is that Republicans have effectively rewritten Senate rules to create a supermajority requirement for confirming presidential nominees. Filibustering cabinet-level officials, once extremely rare, is now routine.


While Democrats filibustered their share of judicial nominees when they were in the minority under President George W. Bush, including people named to the powerful District of Columbia appeals court, what Republicans say they intend to accomplish goes beyond simply blocking a vote. Their goal is to reshape the nation’s most powerful appeals court by shrinking it to just eight full-time judges. By law it has 11 judges who regularly hear cases.


Democrats said that was a step too far. The court is split with four judges appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. But among the six semiretired judges who still hear cases, five are seen as conservative, one as liberal.


Democrats got a reminder of how conservatively the court tends to lean when Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a Bush appointee, wrote an opinion last month declaring that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraception was an infringement of individual religious liberty.


For Democrats who were on the fence about backing a filibuster change, like Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, this was a final straw. Judge Brown was among the judges that seven Democrats and seven Republicans agreed to confirm in a deal that kept Republicans from exercising their nuclear option threat in 2005.


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