The Senate appears to have achieved a fragile peace, agreeing to move all but two of President Obama's most controversial nominees toward confirmation but failing to resolve the differences that pushed Republicans and Democrats to the brink.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was prepared to invoke the so-called nuclear option to move a slate of seven Obama nominees. The move would have eliminated the Republicans' right to filibuster non-judicial executive branch nominees. But senior members on both sides of the aisle, in concert with Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reached a deal to approve five of the seven Obama nominees.
GOP senators agreed to drop their filibusters against Richard Cordray, nominated to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Thomas Perez, Obama's nominee for Labor secretary; and Gina McCarthy, who is to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, among others. In exchange, Senate Democrats and the Obama administration agreed to replace the two National Labor Relations Board members that the president appointed during a disputed Senate recess with new nominees who are to be fast-tracked.
The lynchpin of the agreement, expected to be completed and announced Tuesday afternoon, was a joint Democratic-Republican decision to put off any attempt to permanently resolve the conflict that led them to the confrontation. Under this accord, Republicans retain the right to filibuster future Obama nominees, and Democrats maintain the threat to curb the use of filibusters if they judge any GOP blockade to be unreasonable or unwarranted.
"There's no commitment beyond these nominees, but a sense that everybody may have gotten to the precipice, looked over and decided they don't want to go there," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
"We still have issues with judges, we still have issues of filibusters on legislation — those are not resolved," added Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "But certainly this is a helpful step to move things forward."
The compromise comes on the heels of a four-hour, private meeting Monday with senators of both parties that ended without resolving the issue. Following that gathering, negotiations between Reid, McConnell, Schumer and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., continued late into the night before resuming early Tuesday morning.
McCain and Schumer, in particular, played key roles in corralling support for a compromise among rank and file senators on both sides of the aisle. Details of the accord were still coming together Tuesday afternoon as members met for the weekly party caucus lunches. But one element, involving Cordray's long-delayed confirmation to head the consumer board, was revealed by Sen. Rob Portman.
The Republican was not a party to efforts to delay the confirmation of Cordray, a fellow Ohioan. But his behind-the-scenes effort to convince enough Republicans to support the nominee yielded some fruit. Cordray has agreed to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee to discuss GOP concerns over the consumer board's budget.
"We've got certain commitments from Rich Cordray himself that there would be more transparency and accountability" in the agency, Portman said, adding that he has introduced legislation that would add an inspector general to the consumer board.