“Republicans are inching closer and closer to that line. I’d hope they’ll turn back,” said No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
It is unclear that Democrats have enough votes to force such changes. Some senior lawmakers have long warned that it would boomerang against them should the GOP recapture the Senate majority and the White House.
In a sign of shifting attitudes, Leahy — a senator for nearly four decades — said he now backs a rules change because blocking judges for political reasons “destroys the integrity of the federal judiciary.”
Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the only two Republicans to vote “yes” on Pillard. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was the only Democrat to vote “no,” allowing him to stage the vote again.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the Pillard vote “a political exercise designed to distract the American people from the mess that is Obamacare,” a reference to major enrollment problems with the 2010 health care law. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans were making “cynical arguments in an effort to maintain an ideological edge” among judges on the D.C. circuit.
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