Senate Democrats win votes on four nominees in ‘nuclear option’ showdown

Bowing to an ultimatum, Senate Republicans agreed Tuesday to drop objections to key Obama administration nominees, delivering a victory to Senate Democrats who said they will shelve — for now — their own plans to change the rules and curtail filibusters.

The last-minute deal, announced just before the Senate was slated to hold a critical test vote, still leaves Democrats able to employ the so-called “nuclear option” and change the filibuster rules later this year if they think Republicans are obstructing appointments unfairly.


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Republicans said they got President Obama to withdraw two controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, but the president won assurances that his new picks will be approved before the Senate leaves for its monthlong summer recess.

Both sides said escaping this week without a major blowup counts as a victory for a Senate that has been plagued by partisan gridlock for much of the past decade.

“I think there is a good feeling here in the Senate, the best feeling we’ve had in a real long time,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said moments after meeting with his party colleagues to discuss the informal deal.

Late in the day, Mr. Obama reaped the first fruits of the cease-fire when the Senate confirmed Richard Cordray to be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a powerful new board set up in the wake of the Wall Street collapse to monitor banks and other financial institutions.

In the 66-34 vote on Mr. Cordray’s nomination, 12 Republicans joined Democrats, who have desperately sought to have the bureau up and running. Republican opponents said they will continue to fight for changes, including creating an independent auditor to serve as a watchdog.

Tuesday’s deal stemmed from an extraordinary all-senators, closed-door meeting Monday night, which stretched more than three hours and set up negotiations involving Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who brokered the final cease-fire, which applies to seven nominees Democrats said Republicans have long been blocking.

Mr. McCain said the deal doesn’t apply to any future nominees, but it defused the current crisis and set a better tone for future nomination battles.

“I think this will calm things down,” he said.

The other nominees Republicans agreed not to obstruct include picks to head the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Export-Import Bank and one NLRB member. Mr. Obama officially withdrew and replaced two other NLRB nominees with others late Tuesday, making good on his end of the bargain.

Republicans said that was a victory because the previous two NLRB nominees had been given recess appointments in January 2012 — appointments that a federal appeals court ruled unconstitutional because the Senate wasn’t technically in recess.

Republicans said approving those nominees now would seem to be putting the Senate’s imprimatur on them.

“The White House decided to take the nuclear trigger out of Sen. Reid’s hand and withdraw these nominees,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Still, Republicans struggled to explain why they also didn’t refuse to budge on Mr. Cordray, who was given a recess appointment the same day as the NLRB nominees. A Senate aide said it came down to the fact that Republicans were more unified on the NLRB nominees than they were in opposing Mr. Cordray.

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