WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Thursday to eliminate the use of the filibuster against most presidential nominees, a move that will break the Republican blockade of President Barack Obama’s picks to Cabinet posts and the federal judiciary. The change is the most fundamental shift in the way the Senate functions in more than a generation.
The vote was one that members of both parties had threatened for the better part of a decade but had always stopped short of carrying out. This time, with little left of the bipartisan spirit that helped seal compromises on filibuster rule changes in the past, there was no last-minute deal to be struck.
The vote was 52-48.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, denounced Democrats for trying to “break the rules to change the rules” as a way to distract the public from the president’s political problems over his health care law.
“You think this is in the best interest of the United States Senate and the American people?” McConnell asked, sounding incredulous. “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.”
The gravity of the situation was reflected in a highly unusual scene on the Senate floor: Nearly all 100 senators were in their seats, rapt as their two leaders debated. Tensions between the two parties have reached a boiling point in the last few weeks as Republicans repeatedly filibustered Obama’s picks to the country’s most important appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Senate has voted on three nominees to the court in the last month. Republicans have blocked them all, saying they would allow the president no more appointments to that court.
Democrats, who filibustered their own share of Republican judicial nominees before they took control of the Senate, have said that what the minority party has done is to effectively rewrite the law by requiring a 60-vote supermajority threshold for high-level presidential appointments. Once rare, filibusters of high-level nominees are now routin