WASHINGTON — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate’s minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Obama’s nominees for judgeships and other top jobs.
Despite last month’s Democratic power play over the filibuster rule, Senate Republicans can 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 an excruciating crawl. Those range from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.
Monday starts a two-week, year-end session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal and a defense bill.
Monday will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes, as the Senate will vote to confirm Patricia Millett to become a judge on the US 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. Republicans used the old 60-vote requirement for stopping filibusters to prevent a vote on her nomination in October, a blockade that helped prompt Democrats to force the changes.
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, five more major nominees will come before the Senate, including Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, Jeh Johnson to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Representative Mel Watt, a Democrat from North Carolina, to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.