The latest clash erupted when Republicans blocked two procedural votes on the confirmations of Rep.
FOR THE RECORD:
Obama nominations: An article in the Nov. 1 Section A about Senate Republicans rejecting two key nominations by President Obama included a headline that described the two positions at stake as a Fannie Mae post and a D.C. District Court judgeship. Obama nominated Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, not the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. —
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 55 to 38 in favor of Millett, and 56 to 42 for Watt, but both fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Democrats accused Republicans of rejecting highly qualified presidential choices. Watt became the first sitting member of the House to be denied Senate confirmation in 170 years. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus stood silently on the floor during his vote to protest Republicans' blocking of an African American to a senior post.
Republicans countered that Watt was not qualified to lead the complex Federal Housing Finance Agency, a job usually filled by a technocrat, not a politician. Opposition to Millett, they said, was not based on her qualifications, but on a concern that the D.C. Circuit Court does not have the workload to justify adding another member.
Republicans also complained that they feared Obama was attempting to stack the important court — which frequently rules on federal regulations and is a stepping stone to the Supreme Court — with more liberal judges. Currently, the panel is split evenly between four Democratic and four Republican appointees.
The confrontation sets the stage for more bruising partisan battles just weeks after a 16-day government shutdown drove public approval numbers for
Most of the shutdown drama focused on the fractious battles in the House, and many in the Senate tried to portray themselves as Congress' only rational actors, crafting the bipartisan compromise that eventually allowed government services to resume.
Now the Senate appears headed toward a resumption of its own parochial squabbling over rules.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader
"I hope my Republican colleagues will reconsider their continued run of unprecedented obstructionism," he said. "Something has to change, and I hope we can make the changes necessary through cooperation."
"Mel Watt is absolutely, totally, thoroughly qualified, and it's a gigantic disappointment," Biden said, adding that changing Senate rules was "worth considering."
It was only three months ago that senators reached a last-minute deal to preempt the Democratic majority's threat to eliminate the filibuster as a tool to oppose presidential nominations for executive-branch posts. As a result of the accord, Obama's choices to lead the Department of Labor, the
The fragile peace between the parties that followed included not only the deal to reopen the government but also an agreement to lower student loan rates.
Hopes that a bipartisan spirit would linger in the Senate were dashed on Monday, however, when called for new votes on the slate of pending appointments.
Two Republicans joined Democrats to support Watt. On Millett, three Republicans voted present and two voted with Democrats.
Significantly, Arizona Sen.
McCain urged Reid from the Senate floor to proceed cautiously before considering any radical steps such as changing Senate rules.
"Our approval rating with the American people has sunk to all-time lows and [the American people] are going to see another expression of gridlock when we take these votes today," he said. "But the cure is going to have repercussions for generations to come."
It's unclear when or whether Reid might attempt to change the filibuster rules. Any changes would also apply to Democrats when they are the minority party in the Senate, and they have relied on the filibuster tool in the past.
But Reid's Democratic members — many of whom have only served in the majority — are keen to pursue the rule change. Sen. Jeff
The longest-serving Democrat, Judiciary Committee Chairman
A senior leadership aide emphasized that there would be no immediate attempt to change Senate rules, and that conversations with Republicans continued that could pave the way for the nominations of Watt and Millett to advance. But the aide, granted anonymity in order to candidly discuss the strategy, said that circumstances could change based on how Republicans responded to further nominations.
Reid is likely to bring to the floor a second of three nominees Obama made this summer to the D.C. Circuit,