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Congressional Black Caucus Cheers Senate Rules Change

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the man who made the call to “go nuclear” and change the chamber’s filibuster rules, but the Congressional Black Caucus gave the chamber a push with a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign.

“We’ve been active in terms of calling our senators,” said Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, in a phone interview with CQ Roll Call on Thursday afternoon. “We have probably spoken with just about every senator in the past few weeks and months about how this needed to change.”

“I was on the phone with senators yesterday,” piped in Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who was also on the call, adding that the lobbying was done quietly and was under the radar.

Norton heads up the CBC’s Judicial Nominations Working Group, and on Wednesday she helped lead a strategy session with members to put pressure on the Senate to free nominations that have been languishing for months.

At that point, they didn’t know how close they were to a resolution.

“We really did not know,” Fudge said. “We got some word yesterday that something was going to happen, but we didn’t get anything definitive.

“There was so much joy in the room,” she added, speaking about a meeting that Reid held with filibuster overhaul activists on Thursday afternoon that included Fudge, Norton and more than a dozen other CBC members.

Senate Republicans, who all opposed the rules change, have said they were voting down nominees that would fill seats that are unnecessary.

Democrats have called the tactic a bald attempt to undermine President Barack Obama’s authority.

The CBC has argued that there has been an underlying issue of race, with two high-profile African-American nominees among those blocked: D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Robert L. Wilkins and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

“Frankly, it was an insult to a colleague not to allow a vote on a sitting member of Congress,” Norton said of Watt, “and it turned out to be an African-American sitting member of Congress, so it really got our attention.”

Fudge said she hadn’t gotten any intelligence from Reid or other members of Senate Democratic leadership as to when votes on Watt, Wilkins and others would come to the floor, but that the hope is for them to advance swiftly, starting when Congress returns from the Thanksgiving break.

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