Senate Democrats on Thursday rewrote the chamber's filibuster rule, limiting Republicans' power to block presidential nominees and clearing the way for a wave of quick confirmation votes on President Obama's executive and judicial branch nominees.
"The Democrats just pushed the panic button and know the writing is on the wall regarding their majority," GOP strategist and former Republican Senate leadership aide Ron Bonjean told the Washington Examiner. "They know that time is not on their side."
Senate Democrats — joined by two independent senators — voted 52-48 to change the chamber's filibuster rule so that only 51 votes are needed to advance a presidential nominee instead of the current 60 votes. The change effectively prevents Republicans from stalling most of Obama's nominees.
The White House wasted no time sending a dozen nominations to the Senate shortly after the rule was changed, including two U.S. Attorneys and two D.C. Superior Court judges.
Senate Democrats also moved quickly by advancing Patricia Millet, Obama's pick for the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., and one of several judicial nominees whose confirmation was stalled by Republicans, who invoked the filibuster to prevent Obama's nominees from getting an up-or-down vote in the full Senate.
Most Republicans opposed a trio of Obama judicial nominees because they fear the president will stack one of the nation's most influential courts with liberal judges who support his regulatory policies and other priorities.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the rules change will likely allow Obama to squash legal challenges to his new health care law, which would likely end up in D.C. Circuit Court.
"The Democrats are now shamelessly working to pack the D.C. Circuit, so that President Obama's lawless disregard of our statutes and Constitution will not be held to account by an impartial judiciary," Cruz said.
Republicans have a shot at taking control of the Senate in next year's elections, though it requires winning a half-dozen Democratic seats. Democrats, meanwhile, have seen their own prospects in the 2014 elections diminished by the disastrous rollout of Obamacare.
Senate Democrats who are vulnerable in their re-election bids next year, including Sen. Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, have watched their poll numbers drop because glitches in the health care law's rollout has frustrated the public. Millions of Americans had their existing health plans cancelled and many faced higher premiums for coverage offered on Obamacare's insurance exchanges.
With the rules now changed in their favor, Democrats plan to push through Obama nominees who have been stalled by Republicans, including Obama's choice to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C.
Reid told the Examiner he'll seek a second vote on Watt's nomination under the new rules, though that vote has not been scheduled.
Other Obama nominations expected to move under the new rules change include Terrell McSweeny to fill the vacant Federal Trade Commissioner seat. Obama also needs an undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture. The seat was vacated by Elisabeth Hagen, who Obama appointed during a congressional recess because Republicans were threatening to block her confirmation.
"I think the Democrats are doing this to maximize results while control of the Senate remains a certainty," Doug Schoen, a Democratic strategist and former pollster for President Bill Clinton, said of the rules change.