With a showdown looming, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that a tentative deal was reached with Republicans to avert the so-called “nuclear option” from being invoked to break a filibuster threat over President Obama’s top nominees.
“We may have a way forward on this,” Reid announced on the Senate floor. “I feel fairly confident.”
The agreement, which could be announced later today, would pave the way to a confirmation vote for Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was nominated two years ago, but his confirmation has been stalled in the Senate amid sharp questions from Republicans about the mission and reach of the federal agency. The Senate voted 71-29 with 17 Republicans joining all Democrats to move forward on the confirmation of Cordray.
The deal also calls for the prompt confirmation of other controversial nominees to the Cabinet, including Tom Perez to head the Labor Department and Gina McCarthy to run the Environmental Protection Agency. In exchange for Republicans agreeing not to block those confirmations, the White House would nominate two new members of the National Labor Relations Board, replacing a pair of nominees Republicans have fought.
A day after senators convened for more than three hours behind closed doors in the Old Senate Chamber for a rare bipartisan meeting to discuss the damage a filibuster fight could do to Congress, Sen. John McCain was leading the Republican compromise on the agreement to bring forward Cordray’s nomination.
“I hope that everyone learned the lesson last night that it sure helps to sit down and talk to each other,” Reid said, singling out McCain for his help in breaking the impasse.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose feud with Reid has been escalating for weeks, was not on the Senate floor when the agreement was announced.
“We’re going to move forward with the vote,” McCain said. “I thank all of our colleagues for believing in what I think is very important in our relations in the United States Senate.”
But senior aides to Reid and McConnell worked throughout the night to avoid making a change in Senate rules by allowing executive branch nominees to be approved by a simple majority vote, which would lower the threshold for Obama’s top nominees from 60 to 51 votes to be confirmed.
A test vote on the Cordray nomination was taken at 11 a.m., and the McCain agreement called for a handful of Republicans to join Democrats in allowing his confirmation to proceed. It was a significant victory for Reid – and the White House – but one that came with concessions.
The heart of the dispute that has taken the Senate to the brink of a Constitutional showdown revolves around nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that mediates labor disputes. Republicans have argued that the board wields too much power.
The condition of the deal, Senate aides told ABC News, was that the president would have to appoint two new members to the board who were more acceptable to Republicans. Some Democrats, including Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, cried foul and said it was unfair to have two appointees who have been serving under recess appointment, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, replaced.
ABC News’ Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.