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Senate confirms Obama nominee for court

Appeals court pick had GOP backing

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday confirmed Wyoming’s attorney general, Gregory Alan Phillips, for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, taking a small step toward breaking the logjam over judicial appointments.

Phillips will serve on a court that is based in Denver and covers appellate cases from Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, parts of Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. The Senate voted unanimously — 88 to 0 — to confirm Phillips.

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Phillips is a Democrat but had the strong backing of Wyoming’s two Republican senators. He has served as Wyoming’s attorney general since 2011.

While the nomination of Phillips was considered less contentious, GOP lawmakers have challenged President Obama’s nominees to the powerful US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as well as other federal posts.

Congress returned from its holiday break Monday to deal with the stalled federal nominations, as well as the immigration law overhaul and unresolved differences on the student loan program and the farm bill.

Majority leader Harry Reid had been threatening to break impasses over the nomination of judges and other federal officials by changing the Senate rules to allow confirmation by a simple majority instead of the current three-fifths majority.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Sunday that Reid could regret such a move if the GOP seizes Senate control in next year’s elections.

In the Republican-controlled House, some collaboration will be necessary if the chamber wants to move ahead on immigration legislation this month. Some national Republicans argue that embracing immigration overhaul will boost the party’s political standing in the 2016 presidential election.

In a surprise last month, the House rejected the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill. House conservatives wanted cuts deeper than $2 billion annually in the almost $80 billion-a-year food stamp program while Democrats were furious with a last-minute amendment that would have added additional work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Congress also must figure out what to do about interest rates on college student loans, which doubled from 3.4 percent last Monday because of partisan wrangling in the Senate. Lawmakers promised to restore lower rates when they return this week, retroactively and before students start signing loan documents later this summer.

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