The Senate came to the brink of nuclear war today, stepping away at the last minute. Or, at least, that's the rhetoric that made the actual politics engaging. In reality, the chamber avoided a rule change that would prohibit some filibusters in exchange for approving five of seven nominees from Obama to administration positions. Exciting!
Until last evening, it appeared that the "nuclear option" — a change of the Senate's rules to disallow filibusters on presidential appointees — was a viable option. An unusual, late-evening private meeting of the full Senate last night didn't resolve the dispute between the two political parties. A strong majority of the chamber's Democrats supported amending the rules, should today's votes on seven nominees be obstructed. Every Republican opposed it.
But it appears that this is no longer an issue. The seven appointees being voted upon included:
- Richard Cordray, to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Gina McCarthy, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency
- Thomas Perez, to lead the Department of Labor
- Fred Hochberg, to lead the U.S. Export-Import Bank
- Mark Gaston Pearce, Sharon Block, and Richard Griffin, to sit on the National Labor Relations Board
Cordray was expected to be the bellwether for the day: if his nomination was filibustered, the nuclear option was triggered. This morning, Cordray got the votes he needed for his nomination to move forward, 71 to 29.
To get that deal, it appears that the Democrats sacrificed Block and Griffin. The two sat on the NLRB until January of this year, when a court determined that their recess appointments violated the Constitution. That decision thrust the two into enormously heated Congressional politics, centered on the president's right to make such appointments. With an August deadline for the NLRB appointments looming, the Democrats appear to have dropped them in favor of quicker action on other people.
Under the proposal, which the White House has not yet agreed to, President Barack Obama would pull two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board – Sharon Block and Richard Griffin – and replace them with two nominees who would receive Senate votes quickly.
Votes on the other five nominees would be allowed to go forward – including those of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator and Thomas Perez as Labor secretary.
This is in line with McCain's proposal yesterday, suggesting that other appointees be presented. There is some indication, though, that those appointees will be of the president's choosing and won't face much opposition.
That the nuclear option wasn't employed is probably for the best, melodramatic language notwithstanding. Our analysis suggested that a majority vote on the rules change would be close, and there's some question about whether or not Reid was bluffing.
Nothing, of course, prevents this issue from being raised again as it has in the past. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democrats are keeping the nuclear threat in their back pockets.
We'll give you a heads up if and when you need to head for your fallout shelter.
Photo: A test site near Las Vegas, 1952, or maybe the Senate, someday. (AP)