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GOP makes good on threat to slow confirmations

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

WASHINGTON — In a sign of how the Senate is adjusting to a set of procedural rules, senators will be summoned again on Friday and during the weekend for a series of votes on lower-level nominees amid sustained Republican objections to the changes.

The process of approving several of President Obama's picks to serve on federal courts and agencies began very early on Thursday morning when the Senate confirmed Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She is the second of three Obama nominees confirmed to the court, and legal scholars expect that the new judges will rebalance what is widely considered the second-most important federal court in the nation because it handles cases on federal regulations.

The confirmation process is expected to continue until Saturday afternoon, when senators are expected to vote on Jeh C. Johnson's nomination as secretary of Homeland Security.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., decided to devote most of the week's proceedings to the nominations in order to use the rules enacted last month that allow for the confirmation of most nominees without having to clear a 60-vote hurdle.

Republicans continue to object to the change and are using all remaining procedural tactics at their disposal to slow the process. This week, GOP leaders declined to yield back hours of time set aside for each nominee, as historically has been the practice. The decision forced Reid to call a vote on Pillard's confirmation about 1 a.m. Thursday and another series of votes about 9 a.m. Thursday — hours before the Senate normally holds votes.

The hours of overnight proceedings meant that several junior senators historically tasked with presiding over the chamber were forced to stay late or show up early to sit in the presider's chair. In anticipation of another late night, aides to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., the second-ranking Republican and chief vote-counter, were seen stockpiling cans of Red Bull and soda in his office off the Senate chamber on Thursday afternoon.

The ongoing fight contrasts sharply with the rare bipartisan mood demonstrated this week in the House, which is expected to pass a new budget agreement by a wide margin.

Senators voted 51 to 44 to confirm Pillard, who will be the fifth active female judge on the D.C. Circuit, a record. Three moderate Democratic senators — Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — voted with 41 Republican senators against Pillard amid concerns among conservatives about her views on abortion rights and the Constitution.

A Supreme Court scholar at Georgetown University, Pillard has argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

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