- Democrats say they have no regrets over changing the Senate rules to approve more judges
- Republicans, who will take control of the Senate in January, are upset with the maneuver
As they make a final push to approve presidential nominations before Republicans take control of the Senate, Democrats said Tuesday the confirmation of a record number of federal judges was evidence they were right to make controversial changes to filibuster rules, despite objections from Republicans.
"Yes," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded loudly when asked if still believes he was right to employ the so-called "nuclear option" a year ago in order to clear a backlog of nominees.
The No. 2 Senate Democrat explained that at the time there was a "breakdown in the relationship between the executive and legislative branch."
"If you just look at where we were, with all of the nominations stacked on the calendar, most of which had been reported from committees with overwhelming bipartisan votes," Sen. Dick Durbin said. "Republicans were trying to keep as many nominations from final approval as possible. So we had no choice."
During the first year of the congressional session, before the nuclear option, the Senate confirmed a total of 36 federal district and circuit court judges appointed by the President. After the rules changes, which took place Nov. 21, 2013, the number of judges confirmed more than doubled to 84.
The rules change lowered the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster from 60 to 51, making it much easier for Democrats, who currently have a 54 to 46 majority, to approve judges to those lifetime positions.
Before the Senate adjourns, probably in the next day or two, Democrats hope to confirm an additional 12 district court positions.
Democrats this week also cleared a new surgeon general, a top immigration official, and were ready to approve Tuesday the No. 2 at the State Department. Each of those people faced serious GOP opposition and might not have been cleared if not for the rules change.
"The train is running over everyone. That's the Reid train. Last trip around the track," complained Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona about the last minute wave of judicial and executive branch nominations Senate Democratic Leader Reid is jamming through. "It's a result of the nuclear option which deprived us of our ability to advise and consent and it's shameful.
McCain and other Republicans also blamed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and a small group of other conservatives who forced a weekend session that Reid used to clear procedural hurdles on a number of nominees.
"It was also caused in part by what happened last weekend when several nominees who are controversial are now going to receive Senate votes and are probably going to be confirmed who otherwise probably would not have been," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.