In a historic rule change, the Democratic Party-led U.S. Senate has stripped Republicans of their ability to block President Barack Obama's judicial and executive branch nominees.
On a nearly party-line vote, Democrats changed the Senate's balance of power by reducing from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed in the 100-member body to end procedural roadblocks known as filibusters. The new rule applies only to filibusters concerning presidential nominees for government office, except those for the U.S. Supreme Court.
The vote clears the way for Senate approval of three Obama picks for a top federal court. But it is unclear how long it will take for those nominees to clear final procedural hurdles.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has complained Republican gridlock has prevented the chamber from functioning.
But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says Democrats are using a power play to distract voters from the president's troubled health care law.