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SENATE CONFIRMATION: ‘Nuclear Option’ Enforced, Long-Stalled Judicial Nominee Approved

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(CNN) — Senate Democrats on Tuesday began enforcing their politically explosive rules change on presidential appointments with the chamber confirming an appeals court justice and pushing aside Republican objections to another nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and most other members of the majority party last month invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to speed consideration of most Presidential nominations by making it easier to break Republican filibusters.

They acted out of frustration in changing Senate rules, saying Republicans had long abused their powers to object to President Barack Obama’s appointments, arguing that he had a right to fully staff his administration.

Democrats have pointed to figures showing 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations in Senate history, with about half occurring during Obama’s nearly five years in office.

The new rules were designed to accelerate the process and that’s what occurred on Tuesday.

The Senate confirmed Patricia Millett as a federal appeals court justice for the District of Columbia Circuit, an enormously prestigious post as it can be a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

Republicans had long blocked Millett and two other Obama nominees to the panel to prevent what they fear would be a more liberal-leaning majority on the bench.

Obama said in a statement that he was pleased with the decision by all of the Senate’s Democrats and two Republicans to finally fill a vacancy that has been open since 2005.

“Ms. Millett is a leading appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court, the second-most by a female advocate. She has served in the Department of Justice for both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I’m confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench.” Obama said.

The Senate also voted on Tuesday to break a Republican filibuster of Rep. Mel Watt, D-North Carolina, to be the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Republicans had blocked Watt’s nomination after complaining he lacked the technical skills to run the agency.

The move infuriated Democrats and influenced their decision when exercising the “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for breaking filibusters from 60 to 51 votes. Democrats control 55 seats in the Senate.

A final confirmation vote on Watt could come later in the day.

CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this story.