(Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)
President Obama lobbied at least three indecisive Senate Democrats to back this week's move to ban filibusters of presidential nominees, says a report, as the White House and its allies seem to be preparing to push for confirmation of hundreds of judicial and executive nominees.
Obama played an active role in Thursday's amendment to the Senate's filibuster rules, which deprives the minority party of it power to block presidential nominations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Obama spoke to three indecisive senators on phone, telling them "how important this was to him and our ability to get anything done for the rest of the term," a Senate Democratic aide was quoted as saying.
"We expect a lot of our progress is going to be on the executive side, because, with Congress, there hasn't been a lot of success there," a senior White House official told the Journal. "We need a robust team, and we've been really hamstrung."
There are about 240 nominees, about 50 of which are for the judiciary, awaiting confirmation in the Senate.
The White House is most keen to secure confirmation of Jeh Johnson as secretary of homeland security, Mel Watt as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve, a White House official told The Washington Post.
Obama is also likely to push for speedy confirmation of three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid from Nevada is expected to decide the course of action.
"There is no document; there is no blueprint," Robert Raben, a prominent Democratic lawyer, was quoted as saying. "In terms of a strategy, everybody's blinking really hard."
By a 52-48 vote, the Senate overturned a rule that was in place for over a century, changing the previous requirement for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in nominations, to 51 percent.
After the vote, Obama addressed the filibuster changes, saying the "today's pattern of obstruction – it just isn't normal. It's not what our founders envisioned."
The president added: "All too often we've seen a single senator or a handful of senators choose to abuse arcane procedural tactics to unilaterally block bipartisan compromises or to prevent well-qualified, patriotic Americans from filling critical positions of public service in our system of government."
At the forefront of the move, apparently a reaction to the tea party's grip on the Republican Party, were a new breed of Democrats, mostly elected after 2006, according to Los Angeles Times.
"The Senate is a graveyard for good ideas," Democrat Sen. Tom Udall from New Mexico was quoted as saying. Udall, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, led the filibuster reform effort.
"There's a time to reach across the aisle and there's a time to hold the line," Democrat Sen. Christopher S. Murphy from Connecticut, who is 40, was quoted as saying. "And I think so far this year Democrats in the Senate have done a very good job of mixing across-the-aisle compromise with some heretofore unseen spine-stiffening."
Republicans blasted the move.
"This is about a naked power grab, and nothing more," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley from Iowa, the ranking member of the judiciary committee, said. "This is about the other side not getting everything they want, when they want it."
Grassley said any vote to change the Senate rules is "a vote to remove one of the last meaningful checks on the president, and that vote would put these views on this important court." Democrats know, he added, "if they can stack the deck on the D.C. Circuit, they can remove one of the last remaining checks on presidential power."
He added: "The silver lining is that there will come a day when the roles are reversed."