WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, in a move both historic and provocative, voted Thursday to eliminate use of filibusters to block most presidential appointments, ending a decades-long tradition on grounds that Republicans had abused the process to create a near-permanent state of gridlock.
The change in Senate rules, which will allow all nominees except those for the Supreme Court to be approved by a simple majority, promises to usher in a wave of President Obama’s nominees. But it also raises the prospect of even more intense partisan bickering in the upper chamber, where a culture of collegiality has eroded significantly in recent years.
Although stripping the filibuster from the Senate confirmation rulebook had been threatened by members of both parties for the past decade, senators had repeatedly stopped short of the disruptive action. Denying the minority party the use of the filibuster was seen as so dangerous to Senate precedent that lawmakers referred to it as the “nuclear option.’’
But Democrats said that Republicans’ use of the filibuster to block many of Obama’s judicial appointments left them no choice.
“It’s time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete,” Senate majority leader Harry Reid said in a speech before a chamber packed with senators. “The American people believe Congress is broken; the American people believe the Senate is broken. And I believe the American people are right.”
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