US Senate reaches deal on nominations
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate cleared the way Tuesday for confirmation of several of President Barack Obama’s nominees long blocked by Republicans, agreeing to quick action on others and finessing a Democratic threat to overturn historic rules that protect minority-party rights.
Officials in both parties said they hoped the deal would signal a new, less acrimonious time for the Senate, with critical decisions ahead on spending, the government’s borrowing authority, student loan interest rates and more. As part of the agreement both parties preserved their rights to resume confrontations over nominations in the future, Republicans by delaying them and Democrats by threatening once again to change the rules government such delays.
“Nobody wants to come to Armageddon here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat whose talks with Republican John McCain were critical in avoiding a collision that had threatened to plunge the Senate even deeper into partisan gridlock.
The White House reaped the first fruits of the deal within hours, when Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board was approved 66-34. He was first nominated in July 2011 and has been in office by virtue of a recess appointment that bypassed the Senate.
There was no immediate response from the White House, although Democratic senators said the terms of the compromise were acceptable to the administration.
Under the agreement, several of seven stalled nominees would win confirmation later in the week, including Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez; Gina McCarthy, named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Fred Hochberg to head of the Export-Import Bank.
Two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Clark, were to be replaced by new selections, expected to be submitted quickly by Obama and steered toward speedy consideration by Senate Republicans. Obama installed Griffin and Clark in their posts by recess appointments in 2011, bypassing the Senate but triggering a legal challenge. An appeals court recently said the two appointments were invalid, and the Supreme Court has agreed to review the case.
In their places, officials said Obama intends to nominate Nancy Schiffer, a former top lawyer for the AFL-CIO labor federation, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.
The seventh nomination at issue, Pearce’s selection to a new term as NLRB chairman, was relatively uncontroversial, and is likely to be approved along with the replacements for Griffin and Clark. The NLRB appointments, if confirmed as expected by the end of August, would prevent the virtual shutdown of the agency because of a lack of confirmed board members to rule on collective bargaining disputes between unions and companies.
Before Tuesday’s agreement, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, had insisted that if Republicans didn’t stop blocking confirmation of all seven, he would trigger a change in the Senate’s procedures to strip them of their ability to delay. At the core of the dispute is the minority party’s power to stall or block a yes-or-no vote on nearly anything, from legislation to judicial appointments to relatively routine nominations for administration positions.
While a simple majority vote is required to confirm presidential appointees, it takes 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to end delaying tactics and proceed to a yes-or-no vote. Reid’s threat to remove that right as it applied to nominations to administration positions was invariably described as the “nuclear option” for its likely impact on an institution with minority rights woven into its fabric.
As described by officials, the deal is strikingly similar to a proposal that minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, floated in remarks on the Senate floor last week during an unusually personal exchange with Reid. At the time, the Republican also said he had told Obama last January to drop his hopes of confirmation for Griffin and Clark and instead name two replacements for quick consideration. He relayed the same message again last month to Vice President Joe Biden, a former senator with whom he has a long relationship.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Charles Babington, Donna Cassata, Josh Lederman and Sam Hananel contributed to this story