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Live updates: The filibuster debate

The Senate is debating whether or not to strike down the long-standing filibuster rules for most presidential nominations, potentially altering nearly 225 years of precedent. The so-called “nuclear option’ would allow for swift confirmation of executive branch nominees and most selections for the federal judiciary without having to clear a 60-vote hurdle.

Check here for the latest updates from the debate.

A brief history of the Senate filibuster fight

The Fix: What Senate change means

McCain: If majority can change rules, rules don't exist

Here’s Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) reaction to today’s nuclear option vote:

McCain’s words, not coincidentally, echo those of former Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenburg.

Current Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who was one of just three Democrats to vote against the nuclear option today, quoted Vandenburg saying that such easy rule changes — done with a bare majority rather than a two-thirds majority — mean “there are no rules except the transient unregulated wishes of a majority of whatever quorum is temporarily in control of the Senate.”

Schumer: Change makes sense even if we're minority

Republicans say Democrats will rue this day when the GOP is back in control of the Senate and can pass its nominees (and maybe more) with a simple majority.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) disagrees. Here’s his full (and brief) quote:

“We’d much prefer the risk of up or down votes and majority rule than the risk of continued total obstruction. That’s the bottom line, no matter who’s in power.”

Why did Manchin buck the Democrats?

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) was one of three Democrats who sided with Republicans Thursday against changing Senate procedure regarding the use of the filibuster.

So why did he buck his party? Because the changes “went too far.”

“I firmly believe that the filibuster is a vital protection of the minority views and exactly why the Framers of our Constitution made the Senate the ‘cooling saucer,’” Manchin said in a lengthy statement.

Then, as all West Virginia politicians are wont to do, Manchin invoked the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.), who said shortly before his death: “While I welcome needed reform, we must always be mindful of our responsibility to preserve this institution’s special purpose.”

“It’s past time to fix Congress and make the legislative process work in a way that puts the American people ahead of petty politics. It’s past time Congress begins working together to move this country forward,” Manchin concluded.

Harry Reid's last-minute prop switch

Some staffer gets a gold star; another gets a lump of coal.

Six ways the Senate has changed forever

The Monkey Cage’s Sarah Binder, author or co-author of four books on legislative politics, answers six questions about the new ruling and its implications for the way the Senate does business.

Read her full post here.

So ... what just happened, and why?

The Senate took a historic turn Thursday by eliminating filibusters for most presidential nominations and in doing so severely limited what the Republican minority can do.

This is a confusing topic even for lawmakers, their staffs and the most seasoned Capitol Hill reporters, but we’ll try our best here to explain what went down:

What is a filibuster?

(Graph: Todd Lindeman; Data: Senate.gov)

For more questions and answers, click here.

Pryor echoes Levin

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), another Democratic ‘no’ vote on the nuclear option, noted that the shoe was once on the other foot.

He said Democrats have forgotten that they once made the same argument Republicans are making about D.C. Circuit Court nominees — that the court’s light workload doesn’t require more judges — when the president wasn’t a Democrat.

“We need to stop the games,” Pryor said, accusing both sides of political gamesmanship.

Pryor is the lone ‘no’ vote who face reelection in 2014. He is considered potentially the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent who is seeking another term.

Transcript of Obama's remarks

Obama: 'Pattern of obstruction ... is not normal'

President Obama said the Senate’s move to limit filibusters was necessary to break a “pattern of obstruction that is not normal.”

“Over the past five years, we had an unprecedented pattern of obstruction in Congress that has prevented too much of the American people’s business from getting done,” Obama said during remarks at the White House. He added that “today’s pattern of obstruction is not normal. It’s a deliberate and determined pattern of obstruct everything, no matter what the merits.”

Obama acknowledged that neither political party is blameless from using procedural tactics to block legislation or political nominees. But he focused primarily on the obstruction his administration has faced from Senate Republicans, noting that 30 of his nominees have been blocked by the GOP.

“This is not obstruction on the qualifications, but just to gum up the works. It’s used as a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt.”

Levin: Democrats should remember minority

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the lone longtime Democratic senator to vote against today’s rules change, explains:

“My opposition to use of the nuclear option to change the rules of the Senate is not a defense of the current abuse of our rules,” he wrotes. “My opposition is not new.”

Levin then noted that Democrats including Vice President Biden opposed the so-called “nuclear option” when the GOP was in power in 2005.

“So my position today is consistent with the position that I took, and that every Senate Democrat took, during that 2005 fight to preserve the rights of the Senate minority,” he said. “I cannot ignore that history.”

Levin was joined in voting against the change by two other Democrats: Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Watch President Obama's remarks live

Grassley: GOP likely to expand rule to Supreme Court

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) just said on the Senate floor that Republicans will likely expand the rule change made by Senate Democrats to include Supreme Court nominees.

The rule, which requires only a simply majority vote rather than 60 votes, for now only applies to judicial nominees beneath the Supreme Court level, as well as executive-branch nominees.

Grassley said Republicans will probably push it a step further when they regain power.

“When that happens, our side will likely nominate and confirm lower-court and Supreme Court nominees with 51 votes, regardless of whether Democrats actually buy into this fanciful notion that they demolish the filibuster on lower-court nominees and still preserve it for Supreme Court nominees,” Grassley said.

How the Senate became the House

The Senate has been looking more and more like the House in recent years, and Thursday’s vote to change the rules to allow judicial and executive branch nominees to be approved by a simple majority (aka the nuclear option) may well be the final step in that transformation.

So, how did the “world’s greatest deliberative body” turn itself into something closely resembling the majority-rules raucousness and party-line posturing of the House? The change didn’t happen fast. And no one of the events that led to it would have, in a vacuum, brought us to this place. But, when all of the steps are considered together, it’s actually relatively easy to see how we ended up here.

The Fix has the full story.

Obama set to address nuclear option

President Obama will speak shortly about the Senate’s rule change, which paves the way for confirmation of many of his judicial and executive branch nominees.

His remarks are scheduled for 1:55 p.m.

Watch here for live video.

Senate moves forward with Millett

With the new rules in effect, the Senate just voted to advance the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court.

The vote was 55-43, with two senators voting present.

Previously, it required 60 votes to invoke cloture on Millett’s nomination — a vote that failed repeatedly. Now, it requires only a simple majority.

Millett’s nomination is particularly key because Republicans fear it will tip the balance of power toward liberals on what is generally seen as the nation’s second-most-powerful court.

Senate rules still require up to 30 hours of debate on the Millet nomination. Normally the minority party agrees to shorten the amount of time on debate; it is unclear whether that will happen. So a final confirmation vote on the Millet nomination is expected to be held in mid-December after the two-week Thanksgiving recess.

Senate moves forward with Millett under new rules

With the new rules in effect, the Senate just voted to advance the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court.

The vote was 55-43, with two senators voting present.

Previously, it required 60 votes to invoke cloture on Millett’s nomination — a vote that failed repeatedly. Now, it requires only a simple majority.

Millett’s nomination is particularly key because Republicans fear it will tip the balance of power toward liberals on what is generally seen as the nation’s second-most-powerful court.

Senate rules still require up to 30 hours of debate on the Millet nomination. Normally the minority party agrees to shorten the amount of time on debate; it is unclear whether that will happen. So a final confirmation vote on the Millet nomination is expected to be held in mid-December after the two-week Thanksgiving recess.

Why the filibuster change is a huge deal

Ezra Klein writes:

1. The change the Senate made today is small but consequential: The filibuster no longer applies to judicial or executive-branch nominees. It still applies to bills and Supreme Court nominations.

2. Well, technically it still applies to all bills and Supreme Court nominations. In practice, legislation that mainly uses the government’s tax and spending powers can evade the filibuster using the budget reconciliation procedures. That’s how George W. Bush’s tax cuts passed, and how Obamacare was finished. As for the Supreme Court, it’s very hard to believe that Democrats or Republicans would accept filibusters of qualified Supreme Court nominees, either. And, as Democrats proved today, they don’t have to.

The other seven reasons are over at Wonkblog.

Senate moves forward with Millett under new rules

With the new rules in effect, the Senate just voted to advance the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court.

The vote was 55-43, with two senators voting present.

Previously, it required 60 votes to invoke cloture on Millett’s nomination — a vote that failed repeatedly. Now, it requires only a simple majority.

Millett’s nomination is particularly key because Republicans fear it will tip the balance of power toward liberals on what is generally seen as the nation’s second-most-powerful court.

Senate rules still require up to 30 hours of debate on the Millet nomination. Normally the minority party agrees to shorten the amount of time on debate; it is unclear whether that will happen. So a final confirmation vote on the Millet nomination is expected to be held in mid-December after the two-week Thanksgiving recess.

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