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U.S. News: Senate Limits the Use of the Filibuster for Most Presidential Nominees

Resorts to nuclear option when Republicans refuse to allow votes on judicial nominees

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On Nov. 21, 2013, the Senate deployed the "nuclear option," voting 52–48 to end the minority's party right to filibuster executive and judicial branch nominees. Under the new rules, a simple majority is required to end debate and move forward with a vote on nominees. (A supermajority of 60 votes is still required to end the filibuster of Supreme Court nominees and legislation.) The vote was called a monumental, once in a generation change to Senate procedure. Republicans claimed the move decimated the 200-year-old tradition of filibusters, considered an essential right of the minority party, and said the vote would come back to haunt Democrats when they lost control of the Senate.

"I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle: you'll regret this," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. "And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think."

President Obama's nominees have been filibustered far more than that of any other president. In fact, there have been 168 total filibusters of executive nominees in U.S. history, and 82 of them were under President Obama. According to People for the American Way, between 1949 and 2008, cloture votes were required to break a filibuster on 20 nominations to executive-level posts. (A three-fifths vote of the senators present is required to apply cloture.) There have been 16 cloture votes during Obama's tenure. Democrats were driven to approve the elimination of the filibuster by Republicans' refusal to vote on three nominees to the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals, the most influential appeals court in the country. In February, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a Republican, as secretary of defense. It was the first time in U.S. history that a secretary of defense nominee was filibustered.

Democrats and Republicans alike have threatened to use the nuclear option to ban filibusters. In 2005, Republicans warned that they would go that route when Democrats promised to filibuster several of President George Bush's judicial nominations they considered emphatically "out of the mainstream." A compromised reached by a bipartisan "gang of 14" moderate senators ended the showdown. Given the intense partisanship in Congress, largely as a result of the squabble over the Affordable Care Act, compromise was out of the question.

—Beth Rowen
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