Democratic frustration about Cordray and other stalled nominations led Reid to threaten to alter the Senate’s filibuster rules, which allow for unlimited debate unless there are 60 votes to cut it off.
Reid’s threat was to change the rules so that the nominees to executive branch agencies could be confirmed by a simple majority of 51 votes. Democrats have 54 members in their caucus.
As part of the deal, Republicans demanded that Obama withdraw his controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board — who had been installed through recess appointment, bypassing the Senate — but in turn guaranteed that the new selections would be confirmed.
The bottom line is that several Obama nominees will be confirmed but the Senate rules will remain unchanged — so Republicans can filibuster in the future and Reid can threaten to unilaterally change the rules again.
The compromise, and the confrontation that preceded it, dealt with some of the Senate’s most obscure parliamentary procedures, but together they broadly captured the partisan politics of the moment. For much of the past 20 years, each side in the minority has employed increasingly blunt tactics to slow or stall nominations and legislation advanced by the majority, often using filibusters to torpedo the majority agenda.
The number of attempted filibusters peaked in 2008, more than doubling the number from 1994, and has tapered downward since. But Democrats insist that the traditional sense of decorum in the chamber hit a nadir earlier this year when junior Republicans attempted to filibuster the nominations of national security posts that have always received overwhelming bipartisan support.
Senators suggested that the spirit of the deal and a marathon bipartisan caucus on Monday night had defused, to some extent, the increasingly hostile partisan posture the two sides had adopted over the past few months.
“I hope that everyone learned the lesson last night that it sure helps to sit down and talk to each other,” Reid said Tuesday morning. “It was a very, very good meeting.”
McCain held out hope that Monday’s rare bipartisan huddle, inside the Old Senate Chamber where key compromises of the 19th century were struck, could be a path forward on other contentious issues, such as immigration reform.
“We need to talk. We just proved that last night,” he told reporters.
Hours after the deal was announced, senators voted 66 to 34 to approve Cordray’s nomination. Twelve Republicans joined the entire Democratic caucus to approve the nominee. Other nominees considered less controversial — to lead the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Export-Import Bank — are expected to be confirmed by the end of the week.