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US Senate filibuster rule change for presidential nominees

The Democratic-controlled US Senate has made a rule change to prevent the minority party from blocking presidential appointments. The move alters rules in place since the 19th century.

By a vote of 52-48, the Senate has reduced from 60 to 51 the number of votes needed to end procedural roadblocks to presidential appointments, except to the US Supreme Court.

The change to the filibuster rule does not apply to legislation, which can still be held up by a handful of senators.

President Barack Obama, a former senator, praised the action on Thursday. He called the filibuster "a reckless and relentless tool to grind all business to a halt."

All presidential nominees must be approved by the Senate. Filibustering could be employed by any legislator to hold up an appointment. Even the threat of a filibuster has, in the past, caused names to be withdrawn.

The rule change had been considered a last resort - labeled the "nuclear option" by a previous Senate leader because doing so strips the minority of a key power and could invite retaliation should control of the upper house of the US Congress change.

The immediate cause of the vote is being reported as Democratic frustration at Republican use of the filibuster to block Obama's appointments to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, considered the nation's second most important trbunal after the US Supreme Court.

jm/av (Reuters, dpa)