‘Nuclear option’ on filibusters a possibility down the road, Reid says

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President Obama’s new appointees to the National Labor Relations Board appear headed for a smooth confirmation as part of a deal struck by Senate Democrats and Republicans to avoid a nasty rules fight.

However, Senate Democrats still are holding out the possibility of pulling the “nuclear option” back off the shelf for a looming showdown over judicial nominees.

Nancy Schiffer, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel, and Kent Hirozawa, chief lawyer for the board’s Democratic chairman, both pledged to be impartial arbiters Tuesday as senators tiptoed around the grueling negotiations it took to get them before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

“Today’s hearing is the result of a bipartisan agreement that was reached to allow for a fully confirmed National Labor Relations Board for the first time in over a decade,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and committee chairman. “I hope that this agreement brings a new beginning for the board so that we can ratchet down the political rhetoric that seems to surround this agency and, instead, let the dedicated public servants who work there do their jobs.”

Senate Democrats recently agreed to drop their threat to change the chamber’s filibuster rules in exchange for votes on four of Mr. Obama’s appointees. Republicans said they got the president to withdraw two controversial nominees to the NLRB, but he won assurances that Ms. Schiffer and Mr. Hirozawa will be approved before the Senate leaves for its monthlong summer recess.

The eleventh-hour deal also left 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.

“They will always know that they can’t treat us like that, because I can always come back and do what I was going to do anyway,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Reid, who helped pioneer filibusters against appellate court nominees when President George W. Bush was in office, has said he doesn’t intend to change those rules — though some members of his caucus have pushed him to do so.

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

Still, Republicans struggled to explain why they also didn’t refuse to budge on Richard Cordray, who was given a recess appointment the same day as the NLRB nominees yet he won confirmation to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last week. 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.

While the recent fight was over executive branch nominees, the White House and interest groups have said Republicans are trying to block the president’s judicial picks as well.

Mr. Obama has teed up three nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is viewed as the second-most-important court in the country because it handles appeals from major regulatory agencies, including the NLRB.

Indeed, that was the same court that ruled Mr. Obama violated the Constitution with his recess appointments to the NLRB.

Republicans say the move to add the three judges to the court is retaliation for that decision, and they have vowed to block the nominations, saying the panel already has enough judges to handle its caseload.

Mr. Reid said Tuesday that the Senate has many other nominations they’re going to try to complete in the next week or so.

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