Senate Democrats Go 'Nuclear' To Curb Filibusters

The Senate changed its rules Thursday to allow approval of presidential appointments to the federal government and judicial bench by a simple majority vote. That simple act represented radical change and was hailed by President Obama.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The Senate today detonated the so-called nuclear option. It limited the ability of minority Republicans to block President Obama's nominees. Fifty-two Democrats voted for the most significant change to Senate rules in a generation. Now, the president's executive branch and judicial nominees will need only a simple majority to be confirmed. The move came after months of frustration by Democrats who argue that Republicans were abusing the filibuster.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, President Obama cheered the vote while the GOP warned Democrats would regret it.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Speaking at the White House after the landmark Senate vote, President Obama said the change ends a pattern in which Republicans routinely blocked his nominations. No longer, he said, will they be able to grind the gears of government to a halt.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The vote today, I think, is an indication that a majority of Senators believe, as I believe, that enough is enough. The American people's business is far too important to keep falling prey day after day to Washington politics.

NAYLOR: The Senate vote is a big victory for the president who has seen his judicial nominees to the important D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked as well as nominees to other executive branch agencies, as Republicans required a 60-vote super majority on most major appointments. The rules change will not apply to future Supreme Court nominees. They can still be filibustered.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it was time to get the Senate working again.

SENATOR HARRY REID: It's time to change. It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.

NAYLOR: Republicans angrily argued against the change. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned one day the shoe will be on the other foot when Democrats find themselves in the minority.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.

NAYLOR: The rules change will not end the ability of the minority to filibuster legislation, only nominations. But it represents a major break with tradition in a body where change comes slowly and where partisan gridlock has become the rule. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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