The U.S. Senate has voted to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts.
The mostly party-line vote was 52-48. It came Thursday after a series of procedural moves and angry accusations from both parties' leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid complains that 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.
The vote clears the way for Senate approval of three Obama picks for a top federal court. But it is unclear how long it would take for those nominees to clear final procedural hurdles.
Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, issued a statement about his opposition to limit the rights of the minority.
“The Democratic majority’s action to overturn nearly 225 years of precedent will transform how the United States Senate conducts its business, and not for the better," said Cochran. "Allowing a simple majority to end debate is a mistake and greatly diminishes the Senate’s responsibility to provide advice and consent as set out in the Constitution. The Senate was never intended to operate like the House of Representatives or to serve as a rubber stamp for any President."
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, also opposed it, calling it a blatant power grab by Democrats.
“Senate Democrats voted to force Obamacare on the American people,” said Shelby. “Despite that disastrous exercise of power, they have now voted to give themselves even more of it. And make no mistake; today’s power grab is just the beginning.”
Shelby said if Democrats think they deserve more power, they should earn it from voters at the polls in 2014, not "swipe it with a drastic rule change in the Senate today.”
Shelby said the action sets a precedent he described as dangerous, that could later be expanded to "speed passage of expansive and controversial legislation."