Environmental groups heavily lobbied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to invoke the "nuclear option" to limit Republican use of the filibuster over nominees to most federal judgeships and agencies by President Barack Obama.
"It may free Obama up to be more ambitious about putting forward folks that share [the administration's] philosophy and be less fearful because of the 60-vote threshold," Melinda Pierce, a policy expert for the Sierra Club, told The Hill
The Sierra Club joined a group of unions and liberal organizations that pressured Reid to force the "nuclear option" vote on Thursday.
The Democratic-controlled Senate approved a measure
52-48 ending the requirement that at least 60 votes be needed to advance executive branch and lower-court nominations. Three Democrats voted against: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The change would not apply to Supreme Court nominees or legislation.
Republicans — stripped of their main weapon in stalling Obama's nominees, the filibuster — attacked the move as a blatant "power grab" that could backfire should the GOP retake the White House and Senate in upcoming elections.
"In short, unlike the first two years of the Obama administration, there’s now a legislative check on the president," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told the Hill. "And the administration doesn’t much like checks and balances."
More importantly, environmental groups see the change as a boon to Obama's effort to place three appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Hill reports.
The influential court currently has eight members, evenly split among Republican and Democratic appointees. The judges hear many appeals regarding federal regulation, particularly those that are expected to challenge Obama's upcoming efforts to limit climate change.
In the face of a crumbling second-term agenda, the president is seeking to cement his legacy through executive action on the issue through the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is writing new standards
to reduce carbon emissions at the nation's existing power plants, the primary source of industrial carbon emissions.
"[By] filling up all 11 seats, a full panel is an improvement to the current situation in the court," the Sierra Club's Pierce told the Hill. "And we hope these additions will ensure that the climate regulations are upheld."
Obama's three nominations to the circuit — Patricia Millett, Robert Wilkins, and Nina Pillard — were filibustered by Republicans, leading Reid to bring the vote on the rules change.
In addition, Obama is expected to nominate Janet McCabe to oversee the EPA’s air and radiation regulations office, which plays a critical role in rewriting the carbon emissions standards, the Hill reports. She currently is serving in an acting capacity.
"The change to the filibuster rules brought forward by Sen. Reid will likely mean that whoever is nominated — and we expect that will be Janet — will have an easier and certainly shorter path to confirmation," Pierce told the Hill.
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