The Senate managed to avoid more gridlock and partisan bickering today by reaching a compromise over filibuster rules.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had previously threatened to change filibuster rules for presidential nominees. These threats came after several of President Barack Obama’s candidates for executive department positions had their confirmation stymied by Republican filibusters. The Democrats hold a Senate majority, but it takes a 60-40 vote to break a filibuster, which the party does not have.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stepped in today to help broker a deal. Democrats agreed to leave the current filibuster rules in place and, in exchange, received a promise by Republicans to confirm several of Obama’s appointees. These include Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Secretary of Labor choice Thomas Perez.
As part of the deal, Obama also agreed to withdraw nomination of two candidates for the National Labor Relations Board whose recess appointments angered Republicans and was facing a significant legal challenge. An appeals court had ruled the recess appointments unconstitutional, and the matter is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court.
An immediate result of the deal was Cordray, who was first selected by Obama nearly two years ago for the then-new agency, was finally officially confirmed by the Senate. After a 71-29 vote to end debate, Cordray was confirmed by a 66-34 vote.
Still to come this week is a vote on extending Fred Hochberg’s term as chairman of the U.S. Export Import Bank. Next week will see a vote on Perez and Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Republicans also agreed not to block votes on Obama’s replacements for his withdrawn labor board choices.
Besides negotiation between McCain, Reid, Sen. Charles Schumer , D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., another key moment in the negotiations came yesterday evening. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., suggested the Senate convene a bipartisan caucus, which all but two senators attended. About three dozen senators spoke at the three and a half hour meeting, looking for an end to the partisan bickering that has plagued the Senate recently.
Those efforts have proven fruitful for now, but many are not convinced this will last. Some contentious nomination fights are coming up, including replacing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and several nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, widely considered to be the second-most powerful U.S. court.
Many Republicans feel that the court does not need further members, since it already has a functioning quorum. Republicans did not waive their rights to block future nominees, nor did Reid refuse to rule out the so-called “nuclear option” if Republicans did so again.
It remains to be seen what the long-term impact of this show of goodwill and bipartisanship will be.
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
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