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Senate Republicans debate keeping Democrats' filibuster rules

After complaining about the way Senate Democrats changed the rules for approving executive branch nominations last year, Republicans may decide to keep the rules in place next year when they take over the Senate.

In a meeting Tuesday, the Senate GOP caucus discussed the nominations rule but came to no decision about whether to keep it. The rule allows the Senate to approve nominations (except for Supreme Court nominations) with a simple 51-vote majority, shielding nominees from filibusters, which takes 60 votes to overcome.

Senate Democrats last year changed the rules using the so-called "nuclear option" -- they used a simple majority in the Senate to overturn the policy, rather than going through the Senate Rules Committee.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is one Republican who decried the Democrats' use of the "nuclear option" but now feels the GOP might as well keep the new rules in place.

"Returning to the pre-nuclear option filibuster rule would serve neither the interests of the Senate as an institution, nor constitutionally limited government more broadly," he wrote in an op-ed this week.

Since Democrats were able to use the 51-vote threshold to confirm President Obama's nominees, he argued, Republicans should now take the opportunity to confirm their preferred nominees with 51 votes. "To restore the prior nominations threshold would be to cede the federal judiciary to liberal activists," he wrote.

Other Republicans, however, oppose the day. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said that to keep the new rules would amount to "rank hypocrisy."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, on Tuesday said that he intends for the Democratic-led Senate to get through "a number of nominations" before they adjourn this month. He specifically said the Senate would vote on Sarah Saldaña, the nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Social Security administrator nominee Carolyn W. Colvin; surgeon general nominee Vivek Murthy; and nine more judges.

To get through the list, "maybe we'll have to work the weekend and maybe even work next week," Reid said. "I know that's tough duty for everybody, but we may have to do that."

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