U.S. Senate in around-the-clock session to confirm Obama nominees

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 12, 2013 2:14 PM
U.S. Senate in around-the-clock session to confirm Obama nominees

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. Senate approved four of President Barack Obama's nominees on Thursday as an around-the-clock, confirmation merry-go-round entered its second day with Republicans unable to stop it because of a recent rule change.

The Democratic show of force is expected to come to a close on Saturday with the anticipated confirmation of a 10th Obama nominee in three days - Jeh Johnson to serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Everyone of them will be confirmed," said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

At about 1 a.m. ET (6 a.m. GMT) on Tuesday, the Senate capped hours of debate and confirmed Nina Pillard to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, on a vote of 51-44.

By mid-day, it confirmed three more:

* Chai Rachel Feldblum, of Washington D.C., on a 54-41 vote, to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

* Elizabeth Wolford, of New York, on a 70-29 vote, to be a U.S. District judge for New York's western district.

* Landya McCafferty of New Hampshire, on a 79-19 vote, to be a U.S. district judge for the district of New Hampshire.

Obama's Democrats cleared the way by stripping Republicans last month of their power to block nominees with a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster.

Democrats, who hold the Senate 55-45, reduced from 60 to a simple majority the number of votes needed to end filibusters against all nominees except those for the Supreme Court.

Democrats said they did it to combat "unprecedented obstructionism" by Republicans that prevented Obama from getting much of his second-term team in place.

Republicans charged that the rule change amounted to "a power grab" that eroded the rights the Senate minority and will dramatically alter how the chamber operates.

While Republicans can no longer filibuster the nominees, they can still slow down the confirmation process by refusing to yield back their allotted time to debate each pick - or simply talk about whatever they want.

Democrats accused Republicans of "temper-tantrum talkathon" by using much of their time to rip into Obama's healthcare program or to denounce Democrats for the filibuster rule change.

"Shame on you," Graham said, arguing that the change will lead to a far more partisan judiciary.

"They have changed the face of the judiciary probably for ever," Graham said, adding future judicial picks will likely be those "most faithful to the cause, not most faithful to the law."

The Senate is expected to take Sunday off and return early next week to confirm a number of other nominees, including Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and to fill a third vacancy on the D.C. Circuit Court of appeals with Robert Wilkins, currently a district judge.

Determined to get it all done, Reid said, "If we have to work through Christmas, we will work right through Christmas."

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)