Jessica M. Karmasek Oct. 31, 2013, 6:10pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked the nominations of U.S. Rep. Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Authority and Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

First, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on Watt's nomination. According to the roll call, senators voted 56-42, just shy of the 60 votes needed to end debate.

Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter -- in this case, a judicial nomination -- and thereby overcome a filibuster.

Under the cloture rule, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by a vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

The Senate also failed to invoke cloture on Millett's nomination. According to the roll call, federal lawmakers voted 55-38 to proceed with a vote on her nomination, also shy of the necessary 60 votes.

Three senators voted "present," including U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

In May, President Barack Obama nominated Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, to be the new director of the FHFA, the agency that manages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac following the 2008 financial crisis.

Watt has served as a Congressman since 1993 and has served for all of his 20 years as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees housing policy.

Special interest groups decried Senate Republicans for holding up the nominations.

"Today, Senate Republicans turned their backs on millions of homeowners from across the country. The unprecedented vote to reject a highly qualified sitting member of Congress is shameful and harmful to our nation's economy," said George Goehl, executive director of National People's Action Campaign. "Not since before the Civil War has a sitting member of Congress been denied confirmation for a cabinet-level position, much less been denied even a vote.

"With today's vote, Senate Republicans have once again proven that they would rather cater to the extreme elements of the Tea Party than help our economy recover. This is nothing but Washington at its worst and further evidence of why Congress' polling numbers are at rock bottom and sinking fast."

He continued, "There are no winners today, just losers. Homeowners across the country have been waiting for more than six years for a new regulator to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and deserved more from the Senate."

Millett currently heads Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP's Supreme Court practice and co-heads the firm's national appellate practice. She was nominated by the President in June, along with Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert Leon Wilkins, to the D.C. Circuit.

Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said Americans are fed up with partisan obstruction.

"Make no mistake: this vote wasn't about the impeccable qualifications of Patricia Millett, nor was it about the current caseload on the D.C. Circuit. Rather, Republicans are desperate to thwart President Obama's efforts to carry out his duty under the Constitution to fill judicial vacancies," she said.

"This unprecedented obstruction cannot stand. If an extremist minority in the Senate insists on imposing their own ideological agenda through an abuse of Senate process, then Senate rules must be changed to ensure that qualified nominees get a yes-or-no vote."

Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the Senate the "most broken in modern history."

"Today's filibusters of Patricia Millett and Mel Watt have confirmed that the Senate is now the world's greatest dysfunctional body," she said. "The Senate minority has unified under the banner of obstruction and the American people are paying the price.

"The D.C. Circuit will continue to languish due to inadequate resources until it is staffed by qualified legal minds like Patricia Millett."

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the People For the American Way, called the GOP's blockade "shameful."

"This is the kind of reckless tactic that led to this month's government shutdown," she said.

"Unable to win national elections, Republicans are instead attempting to legislate through obstruction. First, they put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work and threatened to disrupt the world economy in a futile attempt to eliminate a duly enacted law. Now, they're refusing to fill vacancies on the federal courts because they don't like the president who's nominating judges."

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