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Nuclear Option Averted: Senators Strike Tentative Deal To Confirm Nominees Without Reforming Filibuster

Filibuster-fight--3
AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The deal, outlined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) office, also ensures that Reid retains his right to revert to the nuclear option in the future to change filibuster rules by a simple majority vote.

Reid announced on the Senate floor Tuesday morning that there was a tentative deal, less than an hour before procedural votes on the nominees were to begin. He was he was "confident" about its prospects and thanked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for spearheading the compromise effort.

"We still have a few more i's to dot and t's to cross," he said, mentioning that he still plans on talking to Vice President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders. "It is a compromise. I think we get what we want, they get what they want."

The nominees who would be confirmed under the deal are Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy for the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Perez for the Labor Department and Fred Hochberg for the Export-Import Bank. Under the terms of the deal outlined by Reid's office, Mark Pearce would be confirmed to the NLRB while Block and Griffin would be replaced.

Shortly after the agreement was announced, the Senate voted 71-29 to advance Cordray's nomination to lead the CFPB -- a good sign that the deal will hold. Seventeen Republicans voted in his favor, some of whom had signed a letter back in February pledging not to unless Democrats agreed to enact structural reforms to weaken the agency's regulatory authority.

"Senator McCain frankly initiated these calls because he was so eager to avoid having a blow-up on the rules," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters on Tuesday. "We kept batting things back and forth as to what could please his side and what could please our side. And came to a mutual and happy accommodation."

A senior Democratic aide said that "[g]iven what he heard in joint caucus yesterday, Sen. Reid and the Dem leadership feels it has to give the negotiation a serious shot before pulling the trigger. This confrontation was always set up in such a way that the Republicans chose their own adventure -- if they wanted to meet all our requirements, then there was no nuclear option."

The NLRB, which is tasked with enforcing the law barring unfair labor practices, will be inoperable this fall if the Senate doesn't confirm nominees to serve on the board. Labor unions aggressively lobbied Democrats to staff the board and urged them to nuke the filibuster for executive branch nominations if Republicans blocked nominees to it.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Republican had previously admitted four of the seven pending nominees had the votes to be confirmed, and wanted the White House to send two new "legal" NLRB nominees after the D.C. Circuit Court invalidated some of President Obama's recess appointments.

"This is the offer McConnell has made publicly a dozen times -- give us two new nominees for the NLRB," the McConnell spokesman said.

Schumer said he hopes the agreement will usher in a new era of "comity" in the Senate.

"Everyone is glad that we avoided the nuclear option," he said, likening the prospect of a partisan rules change to "Armageddon."