WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted to confirm two more of President Obama’s stalled nominations in an unusual all-night session forced by Republican objections to the historic change to the chamber's filibuster rules.
In a vote after 1 a.m. EST Thursday, Nina Pillard became the second nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the nation's second-most powerful court, to win confirmation under new rules that allow most nominees to be advanced by simple majority vote. She was confirmed on a 51-44 vote.
The Senate then proceeded to end debate on Obama’s nominee to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai Rachel Feldblum. Final confirmation came hours later, after the sun rose Thursday on what is technically the still-ongoing Wednesday session.
In the meantime, senators took to the floor to continue the debate that began before Thanksgiving, after Democrats engaged in a controversial procedural maneuver to change Senate rules mid-session, lowering the threshold for cutting off some filibusters from a three-fifths majority to a simple majority.
Democrats began a two-week stint Monday with an attempt to clear a backlog of nominations, some long delayed by GOP filibusters. Pillard and Patricia Millett have now been seated on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, while Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was confirmed as the top regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
After Feldblum, Democrats are seeking to confirm nine other presidential choices, including lower-court nominees and candidates for deputy secretary of State and secretary of the Air Force. Last on the list is Obama's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, a choice that does have broad Republican support.
But Republicans, using procedural mechanisms still at their disposal, are insisting on exhausting all time requirements for debate on the choices, as much as 30 hours in some cases. Typically, that time has been yielded back through informal agreements between the Democratic and Republican leaders so the Senate can move to other business.
To process the remaining nominees as quickly as possible, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he will keep the Senate in for late nights and into the weekend. As the Senate girded for its all-nighter Wednesday, Reid expressed exasperation that Republicans "are forcing us to waste time on nominees they know will be confirmed." Democratic aides accused Republicans of forcing unnecessary delays out of "bitterness."
Republicans maintain, though, that some of the nominees Reid is seeking to confirm are hardly priorities, and that the Senate should use the time to consider such issues as a defense authorization bill or the budget.
Republicans used the session to criticize the Democrats' rule change as an assault on minority rights the Senate was designed to protect. Several also used the time to criticize Obama's healthcare law, the product of what they said was similar overreach.
"It's an attempt to shut out the American people from the political process," Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a speech on the Senate floor at 3 a.m. "President Obama and the majority party in the Senate are so dedicated to enacting their progressive agenda, they'll do anything, even if it means running roughshod over the minority."
Most senators, though, did not hang around in the wee hours after casting votes. But some Senate staff and security officers, among others, had to, as did a succession of junior Democrats who took shifts in the chair as presiding officers.
"About to take the 3-5 a.m. shift," freshman Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) posted. "Need an amendment to Senate rules allowing Red Bull on dais."
"For those who can't sleep – find your antidote to insomnia on C-SPAN," new Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tweeted. "It's just [a] small taste of what so many do: work late nites and early morns."