Senate Dems push Obama nominees, GOP bides time

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh from shackling the traditional blocking ability of the Senate’s minority party, Democrats are ready to muscle through President Barack Obama’s nominees for pivotal judgeships and other top jobs.

Despite last month’s Democratic power play, Senate Republicans retain the power to slow, though not derail, Obama’s appointments.

Left unchanged were other rules that the out-of-power party could use to grind the chamber’s work to an excruciating crawl. That ranges from requiring clerks to read voluminous bills and amendments to forcing repeated procedural votes.

“There are so many ways of slowing things down in the Senate,” said Robert Dove, the Senate’s former long-time parliamentarian.

Monday starts a two-week, year-end Senate session in which Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hopes to finish work on a modest budget deal, a defense bill and other lingering items.

It will also be the first test of how Republicans respond to the Democratic changes.

This May 1, 2013 file photo shows Federal Housing Finance Authority Director nominee Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., listening as President Barack Obama announces Watt's nomination for the, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

This May 1, 2013 file photo shows Federal Housing Finance Authority Director nominee Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., listening as President Barack Obama announces Watt’s nomination for the, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Monday’s meeting marks the chamber’s first since irritable lawmakers left town Nov. 21 for their Thanksgiving break. Earlier that day, Democrats used their 55-45 edge to reshape how filibusters work, trimming the number of votes needed to halt procedural delays against most nominations from 60 to a simple majority.

Democrats pushed through the changes after tiring of what they consider excessive GOP efforts to derail Obama’s nominees. The move angered Republicans, who argue that Democrats frequently tried blocking President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

How the GOP responds will become clearer when they return to the Capitol. But in a chamber whose arcane rules give any single senator the ability to throw the brakes on much of its work, partisan friction can hurt.

“The fact is it changes personal relationships with everybody on the other side,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “It has damaged the ability of us to move forward.”

The Senate is vulnerable to delays because its rules technically require votes on almost anything it does. This includes agreeing to not read aloud an entire amendment, agreeing to begin considering nominations, even letting committees meet while the Senate is in session.

To save time, the Senate usually does such things by unanimous consent — a quick voice vote to which no one objects. But angry senators can block fast action.

Democrats could make GOP delays as painful as possible, such as keeping the Senate in all night and on weekends.

“We’re going to seek to achieve as much as we possibly can and hope Republicans will cooperate with us, instead of just using knee-jerk obstruction,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Reid.

Republicans are already using the rules to flex their muscle.

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