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U.S. Senate in around-the-clock session to confirm Obama nominees

Jeh Johnson testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be th
Jeh Johnson testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be th

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. Senate on Thursday approved six of President Barack Obama's nominees, including four judges, on the second day of its around-the-clock confirmation marathon that Republicans were unable to stop because of a rule change.

The Democratic show of force is expected to come to a close on Saturday with the anticipated confirmation of an 11th Obama nominee in three days - Jeh Johnson to serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

"Every one of them will be confirmed," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.

At about 1 a.m. EST on Thursday, the Senate capped hours of debate and confirmed the first nominee in its non-stop session - Nina Pillard to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, on a vote of 51-44.

By late in the day, it approved five more:

* Chai Rachel Feldblum, of Washington, D.C., on a 54-41 vote, to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

* Elizabeth Wolford, of New York, on a 70-29 vote, to be a U.S. district judge for New York's western district.

* Landya McCafferty, of New Hampshire, on a 79-19 vote, to be a U.S. district judge for the district of New Hampshire.

* Patricia Wald, of Washington, D.C., to be a member of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Rights Oversight Board, on a 57-41 vote.

* Brian Morris of Montana, on a 75-20 vote, to be a U.S. district court judge in his state.

Democrats cleared the way by stripping Republicans last month of their power to block nominees with a procedural roadblock known as a filibuster.

Democrats, who hold the Senate 55-45, reduced from 60 to a simple majority the number of votes needed to end filibusters against all nominees except those for the Supreme Court.

CHARGES OF 'OBSTRUCTIONISM' AND 'POWER GRAB'

Democrats said they did it to combat "unprecedented obstructionism" by Republicans that prevented Obama from getting much of his second-term team in place.

Republicans charged that the rule change amounted to a "power grab" that eroded the rights the Senate minority and will dramatically alter how the chamber operates.

While Republicans can no longer filibuster the nominees, they can still slow down the confirmation process by refusing to yield back their allotted time to debate each pick - or simply talk about whatever they want.

Democrats accused Republicans of a "temper-tantrum talkathon" by using much of their time to rip into Obama's healthcare program and to denounce Democrats for the filibuster rule change.

"Shame on you," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, predicting that the change will lead to less bipartisanship and a far more partisan judiciary.

"They have changed the face of the judiciary probably for ever," Graham said, adding future judicial picks will likely be those "most faithful to the cause, not most faithful to the law."

The Senate is expected to take Sunday off and return early next week to confirm about a dozen more nominees, likely beginning with Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court.

"If we have to work through Christmas, we will work right through Christmas," Reid said.

There are about 75 nominees pending before the Senate.

Any not confirmed by December 31, the end of this session of Congress, will have to be renominated or withdrawn - unless they receive unanimous consent of the Senate to remain where they are, ready for consideration.

Traditionally there is a backlog of unconfirmed nominees at the end of each year. But Republicans upset by the rule change may now be in no mood to provide any unanimous consents so they can stay in line.

(This story was refiled to corrects to say five more were approved, not four in paragraph 5 )

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Eric Beech)

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