In a victory for Democrats, the Senate has voted to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts.
The mostly party-line vote was 52-48. It came Thursday after a series of procedural moves and angry accusations from both parties' leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complains that Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning.
But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president's troubled health care law.
The vote clears the way for Senate approval of three Obama picks for a top federal court. But it is unclear how long it would take for those nominees to clear final procedural hurdles.