WASHINGTON – Senators emerged from a 3½-hour meeting late Monday without a deal to stop Democrats from upending Senate filibuster rules and forcing up-or-down confirmation votes on seven controversial Obama administration nominees – including three men from Buffalo.
“The night is late,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said after the meeting ended at about 9:30 p.m. “We’ve had a very good conversation. The conversation’s going to continue tonight. Votes are scheduled for 10 o’clock in the morning.”
Reid said previously that the first confirmation vote would be for Richard Cordray, President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A vote would then follow regarding Thomas E. Perez, the Buffalo native Obama chose to serve as labor secretary.
Votes on the other nominees – including Buffalo attorney Mark Gaston Pearce to chair the National Labor Relations Board and Buffalo-born attorney Richard F. Griffin Jr. to serve on that panel – would follow.
What’s unclear, though, is whether those votes would take place after Democrats vote to change Senate rules to end the filibuster’s 60-vote requirement for the confirmation of administration nominees.
“Discussions continue on the nuclear option,” which is what senators of both parties have called the off-again, on-again threat to change the Senate rules, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted late Monday.
Ninety-eight of the nation’s 100 senators crowded into the Old Senate Chamber shortly after 6 p.m. for a private caucus to discuss the nuclear option, and senators from both parties described the meeting as intense and inconclusive.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called it a “heartfelt discussion.”
And Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the sticking point in the talks centers on the nominations of Griffin and labor lawyer Sharon Block to serve on the labor panel.
Obama first named Griffin and Block to their posts as “recess appointments” when the Senate wasn’t at work in early 2012. A federal appeals court has since ruled their appointment to be illegal, which is why Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. has insisted that they not be confirmed.
“I think the NLRB is the real point of contention,” Thune said. “The two NLRB appointments are really, really difficult for Republicans who believe they were illegally made.”
Republicans have also quietly blocked the renomination of Pearce to chair the labor board, even though he was not a recess appointment.
The late-night Senate meeting came hours after Reid said he was holding firm in the vow that he made last week: that Democrats would change Senate rules on a party-line vote to prevent Republican filibusters from blocking the seven nominees from winning confirmation.
Frequent Republican filibusters “threaten the integrity of this institution,” Reid said on Monday morning.
“I love the Senate, but right now the Senate is broken and needs to be fixed,” Reid added.
Republicans have said, though, that if Reid goes through with his threat and restricts the filibuster on a party line vote, they will retaliate by blocking any substantive legislation.
Behind the arcane debate on Senate rules stood several controversial nominees, led by Perez, whom Obama nominated on March 18 to serve as labor secretary.
Reid praised Perez as a blue-collar lawyer who worked on a garbage truck during his early years in Buffalo, but McConnell said Perez’s record shows him to be “a liberal ideologue.”
Republicans have been less critical, but no more accommodating, regarding the nominations of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Administration, Fred Hochberg to run the Import-Export Bank, and Cordray.
In his morning speaking engagement, Reid made clear that his proposed rules change would apply only to administration nominees. Judicial appointments and legislation would still be subject to a 60-vote majority before moving forward.