WASHINGTON — The Senate averted a showdown Tuesday over the fate of the filibuster as it confirmed President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and moved to consider other key Obama administration nominees.
Under an eleventh-hour deal brokered by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., senators agreed to vote on Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the consumer bureau, a move desired by Senate Democrats and the White House. Senators confirmed Cordray on a 66-34 vote, with 12 Republicans and two independents voting with Democrats.
In exchange for acting on Cordray, Democrats and the White House agreed to withdraw two National Labor Relations Board nominees who were recess appointments by Obama and replace them with new choices. Republicans strongly opposed confirming Richard Griffin and Sharon Block for the board because a federal court had ruled their recess appointments invalid.
Obama later nominated Kent Yoshiho Hirozawa, of New York, and Nancy Jean Schiffer, of Maryland, to the board. Hirozawa is chief counsel to the board’s chairman. Schiffer previously was associate general counsel to the AFL-CIO and deputy general counsel to the United Auto Workers, the White House said.
With Griffin and Block out and Cordray confirmed, senators will move toward confirmation votes on several of Obama’s other nominees, including Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Thomas Perez as the secretary of labor and Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce for another term on the National Labor Relations Board.
“It’s very significant. We’re showing now, with that and the immigration bill, maybe we can show more momentum towards bipartisanship,” McCain said. “I believe it can bring some momentum for further cooperation.”
At the White House, Obama said he was pleased by the Senate’s actions.
“Over the last two years, I’ve nominated leaders to fill important positions required to do the work of the American people, only to have those positions remained unfilled – not because the nominees were somehow unqualified, but for purely political reasons,” he said. “I want to thank the senators from both parties . . . who have worked together to find a path forward and give these nominees the votes they deserve.”
A test vote on Cordray’s nomination earlier in the day sailed through the Senate by 71-29, a seemingly bipartisan love fest that belied days of acrimony over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s threat to change the Senate’s filibuster rules if Cordray’s nomination didn’t achieve the 60-vote threshold required to proceed to confirmation.
“We are pleased that the majority decided not to exercise the nuclear option,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We think that’s in the best interest of the institution.”
For days, Reid implied that he’d pursue the so-called “nuclear option,” a complicated multi-step maneuver to change Senate rules to make it more difficult for the minority party to filibuster nonjudicial nominees and easier to confirm them by simple majority votes.
The Nevada Democrat said the move was necessary because of what he viewed as Republican obstruction of Obama’s nominees, including unsuccessful filibusters of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and CIA Director John Brennan. McConnell disputed Reid’s claim and argued that the majority leader was pursuing an unprecedented power-grab, and he predicted that Reid would go down as the worst Senate majority leader in history if he pursued the option.
With Reid and McConnell at bitter odds, senators retreated to the ornate old Senate chamber Monday night in a last-ditch effort to avert Reid pulling the option trigger. Lawmakers emerged from a 3.5-hour meeting without a deal, but they continued to talk afterward.
With the Cordray vote looming Tuesday, Reid announced that a deal was at hand. After it was formally announced, Reid said he’d follow the advice of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whose time in the Senate and House of Representatives dovetails Reid’s.
“Here’s the advice that she gave all of us a few minutes ago. . . . ‘Colleagues, no gloating; maximum dignity.’ So that’s where I’m coming from,” Reid said.
McCain, a member of the “Gang of Eight” senators, who authored a comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate passed recently, called the negotiations on the nuclear option “probably the hardest thing I’ve been involved in.”
Not all senators shared McCain’s optimism about an outbreak of bipartisanship blossoming from Tuesday’s deal.
“While this addresses an immediate need for the president of the United States to have his Cabinet and other senior officials confirmed,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent, “we should be clear that the agreement only addresses one symptom of a seriously dysfunctional U.S. Senate.”
David Lightman, Lesley Clark and Ali Watkins contributed to this article.
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