U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., split with Senate Democrats who voted Thursday to do away with a long-standing rule requiring a 60-vote majority to confirm nominees for executive branch and non-Supreme Court positions.
Pryor joined fellow Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in voting with Republicans against the so-called "nuclear option," under which the chamber can approve nominees for the positions with just a simple majority. The measure passed with 53 votes from Democrats.
Party leaders said the change was necessary to break a logjam on President Obama’s nominees that Republicans created by blocking the president’s judicial choices. GOP lawmakers contend Obama is trying to stack the nation’s courts — the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in particular — to further his agenda.
But Pryor said Thursday’s use of the "nuclear option" could permanently damage the Senate and have negative ramifications for the American people.
"During my time in the Senate, I’ve played key roles in the Gang of 14 and other bipartisan coalitions to help us reach common-sense solutions that both sides of the aisle can support. This institution was designed to protect — not stamp out — the voices of the minority," Pryor said in a statement released by his office.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., criticized the vote as a political ploy and a power grab by Democrats, designed both to divert attention from what he said was the "terrible" rollout of the Affordable Care Act and to stack one of the nation’s least worked federal courts.
The 60-vote requirement was meant to spur consensus.
"When you have a role to play in (presidential nominations), if it means anything, occasionally you’re going to have someone who is turned down," Boozman said.
He rejected as "totally false" Democratic leaders’ claim that presidential nominees are being unduly held up, noting that the majority of confirmation hearings scheduled have only been on the Senate calendar for a few weeks.
Senate Republicans have held up confirmation of three nominees to the D.C. Circuit that would expand the court from eight to 11 judges.
"They’re trying to expand it because this is where the challenges to Obamacare, the challenges to the EPA, Labor and other agencies that are putting down all this rule-making … that’s where it’s all decided, Boozman said. "The president is using this as another way to circumvent the Senate and the American people."
Pryor faces a tough re-election campaign against presumptive Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
Cotton has introduced legislation in the House to do away with the three additional slots on the D.C. Circuit and reducing the court to the eight judges now on the bench.
Pryor has pledged support for all three of Obama’s nominees, but Boozman did not question Pryor’s motives for his vote Thursday against the nuclear option.
"His record has been clear in the past. He has publicly stated he was very concerned about rules changes and has made it clear on other occasions when the threat of this came up that he would probably vote against it," Boozman said.