Senate Republicans today blocked President Obama's picks for a powerful federal court and a housing regulatory agency, prompting Democrats to threaten curtailing the GOP's ability to derail nominations. "Something has to change, and I hope we can make the changes necessary through cooperation," Harry Reid said after the votes. Republicans derailed the president's picks of Patricia Millett to become a judge on the US Court of Appeals in DC and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-NC, to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
The Senate voted 55-38 to end the delays against Millett and 56-42 to end the blockade against Watt—falling shy each time of the 60 votes Democrats needed to prevail. The defeats immediately subjected Democratic leaders to pressure from liberal groups and newer Democratic senators to change Senate rules that let the minority party force the majority to muster 60 votes on controversial nominations, instead of a simple majority. No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said he doubted Democrats would act on their threats. He said if Democrats change the rules and Republicans win the White House and Senate, "then we could confirm another Scalia, another Thomas with 51 votes," a reference to conservative Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. "So I think they need to think twice, and I think they understand that."