Senate Democrats placate dispirited core liberals with rules change
WASHINGTON — By limiting the ability of Republicans to block President Obama's nominees, Senate Democrats sought to placate the party's core liberal activists dispirited by the troubled rollout of the health care overhaul and government snooping before midterm elections in which a president's party typically loses seats in Congress.
Republicans insist that the move engineered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Thursday won't matter in next year's congressional races as the political fallout over the Affordable Care Act registers with voters. Democrats voted unilaterally to change the Senate's filibuster practices and take away the minority party's ability to block presidential nominees for key appellate judgeships and top federal agency posts with just 40 or 41 votes.
With the change, Democrats scored points with liberal groups that can deliver money and mobilization in 2014 congressional races with control of the House and 21 Democratic and 14 Republican Senate seats at stake. Seven of the Senate seats now held by Democrats are in states that Obama lost in 2012 to Republican Mitt Romney.
“Senate Democrats have rightly reformed the filibuster, and the grass-roots base of the Democratic Party have their back for taking this important stand,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the 1.2 million-strong Democracy for America. The group tends to favor challengers, but Chamberlain said the rules change would be a factor in endorsements and support.
“There's no question our members are extremely excited. They've been fighting for years,” Chamberlain said. His group, along with Credo Action and Daily Kos Action, delivered more than 285,000 petitions to Reid. Combined, he said, they represent 5 million members.
The Senate action comes as approval of Obama has dropped to the lowest level in his five years in office. Even support for him among Democrats is falling. Millions of canceled health care policies and problems with the health care website have taken a considerable toll on his standing. Liberals have been unnerved by the National Security Agency spying, with a steady stream of disclosures about emails and Internet usage subject to government prying.
A CBS News poll released this week found Obama's approval rating at 37 percent a year after he won re-election, with only 47 percent saying they were confident in his ability to manage the federal government effectively. Among Democrats, his approval has dropped from 81 percent in October to 73 percent in mid-November.