Senators struggled behind closed doors Monday evening to
forge a compromise that would prevent Democrats from upending Senate filibuster
rules and forcing up-or-down confirmation votes on seven controversial Obama
administration nominees -- including three men from Buffalo.
Ninety-eight of the nation's 100 senators crowded into the Old Senate Chamber shortly after 6 p.m. for a private caucus to discuss Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to deploy the "nuclear option:" that is, holding a party line vote to end the filibuster's requirement that a 60-vote majority is needed for the confirmation of administration appointees.
As the meeting began, there were signs that a deal might be within sight to avoid a showdown that, Republicans said, could lead to even more paralysis in the Senate.
"Maybe there's a little bit of a thaw," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters as he entered the meeting. "The leaders are continuing to talk, the White House is involved in discussions with some of our members. Nothing has resulted from that, but the fact that people are still talking is a positive."
Deal or no deal, it seemed likely that votes on some of the nominees would come as soon as Tuesday.
Reid, D-Nevada, said he expected to begin with a vote on Richard Cordray to be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, to be followed by a vote on Thomas E. Perez, the Buffalo native chosen by President Obama to be labor secretary.
Votes on the other nominees -- including Buffalo attorney Mark Gaston Pearce to chair the National Labor Relations Board and Buffalo-born attorney Richard F. Griffin Jr. to serve on that panel -- would follow.
While private talks continued, Reid held firm in the vow that he made last week: that Democrats would change Senate rules on a party-line vote to prevent Republican filibusters from blocking the seven nominees from winning confirmation.
Frequent Republican filibusters "threaten the integrity of this institution," Reid said in a speech at the Center for American Progress on Monday morning.
"I love the Senate, but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed," Reid added.
Republicans have said, though, that if Reid goes through with his threat and restricts the filibuster on a party line vote, they will retaliate by blocking any substantive legislation.
"I guarantee you, it's a decision that, if they actually go through with it, they will live to regret," Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, leader of the Republican minority, said last week.
Democrats said they were inclined to act despite such threats because they're increasingly frustrated that Republicans had blocked Cordray's nomination for two years and those of Griffin and NLRB nominee Sharon Block for a year and a half.
"We find ourselves in a situation where there's a tyranny of the minority, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat.
Behind the arcane debate on Senate rules stood several controversial nominees, led by Perez, whom Obama nominated on March 18 to serve as labor secretary.
Reid praised Perez as a blue-collar lawyer who worked on a garbage truck during his early years in Buffalo, but McConnell said Perez's record shows him to be "a liberal ideologue."
And while Reid said "no one questions the qualifications" of the three NLRB appointees, Republicans have focused their ire on Griffin and Block because Obama first named them to their posts as "recess appointments" when the Senate wasn't at work. A federal appeals court has since ruled their appointment to be illegal, which is why McConnell has insisted that they not be confirmed.
Republicans have been less critical, but no more accommodating, regarding the nominations of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Administration, Fred Hochberg to run the Import-Export Bank, and Cordray.
In his morning speaking engagement, Reid made clear that his proposed rules change would apply only to administration nominees. Judicial appointments and legislation would still be subject to a 60-vote majority before moving forward.
News wire services contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2013 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Visit The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.) at www.buffalonews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Most Popular Stories
- SoCalGas Reaches Record Spend on Diversity Suppliers
- Republican Jolly Wins Fla. Special Election
- Menendez Introduces Tough Sanctions Against Russia
- World Wide Web Turns 25
- Senate Dems Pull All-Nighter on Global Warming
- Obama Seeks Overtime Pay for Salaried Workers
- Clarke Replaces Perez at Eastman Kodak
- Copper Plunges on China Jitters
- Vestas Ramps Up Hiring to Build Wind Turbines
- Justin Bieber Comes Between Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez