Republicans have threatened to retaliate on a host of other legislative matters, creating the possibility that the already toxic tensions in the chamber would hit new heights because of the move that some call “the nuclear option.”
Invoking the spirit of early-19th-century deals that delayed the onset of the Civil War, senators met in the Old Senate Chamber, which until 1859 served as the meeting room for such key pacts as the Missouri Compromise of 1820.
“There’s no deal but there’s a much better understanding,” said Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), one of his party’s most senior senators. Rockefeller said there was a framework for a possible deal before the showdown votes on Obama’s current picks to run the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some exited more grim, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who spent the previous week in shuttle diplomacy with Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House.
Asked whether Reid had come around, McCain said simply: “Yes, sort of.” He said the talks were now firmly between Reid and McConnell, predicting a long night ahead.
McConnell did not speak after the meeting, issuing a statement declaring “a clear bipartisan majority” supported finding a solution.
Only two of the 100 senators missed the marathon meeting, because of personal commitments, and roughly three dozen senators spoke during the closed-door session. “I think everybody in there came away with a better appreciation for how the other side feels,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a freshman who sat alongside two Democrats, said afterward.
At the outset, Reid remained defiant Monday, saying that Republicans can avoid a showdown by backing off threats to block seven nominees slated for consideration.
“I love the Senate, but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed. It’s time for course correction,” Reid said at the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.
White House officials said the president had played a behind-the-scenes role in the messy procedural fight, saying that Obama supported Reid in whatever decision he made. At Reid’s urging, Obama has made calls to wavering senators asking them to back Reid if he makes the move.