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U.S. Senate confirmation marathon approves two more Obama nominees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. Senate capped a third day of an around-the-clock confirmation marathon on Friday by approving two more of President Barack Obama's nominees and agreeing to finally take a break - and vote on two more on Monday.

Republicans can slow down but not stop the confirmations because of a Democratic rule change that ended their ability to block nominees with procedural hurdles known as filibusters.

On votes of 79-6 and 74-17, respectively, the Senate confirmed on Friday Deborah Lee James as secretary of the U.S. Air Force and Heather Anne Higginbottom as deputy secretary of state for management and resources.

The two raised to nine the number of Obama's nominees, most of them relatively low-level, confirmed since the Senate kicked off its non-stop effort at about midday on Wednesday.

On Monday the Senate is expected to confirm Anne Patterson as an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and Jeh Johnson as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Later next week, the Senate is expected to confirm Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve and Roberts Wilkins as a member of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Republicans have prolonged the Senate debate by rejecting requests to yield back allotted time. But they have used most of their time not to discuss the merits of Obama's nominees, but to rail against the rule change.

Republicans accuse Democrats of an unwarranted "power grab." Democrats say they took the action to combat "Republican obstructionism."

At this point, Democrats want to get as many nominees confirmed as they can before Congress ends its work for the year and heads home for the holidays, likely at the end of next week.

About 70 nominees are still pending.

Like past years, many of those left unconfirmed may have to begin the process all over again, beginning with the president re-nominating them.

(Reporting By Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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