Senate sources say a deal has been struck to avert Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’s threatened “nuclear option” on nominations. By deal, we mean that Senate Republicans ceded the point and will now allow votes to confirm 7 pending nominations from the White House. They extracted a minor concession from Senate Democrats, who retain the ability to threaten the “nuclear option” on future nominations.
Although the White House hasn’t yet agreed to the deal, it would have to withdraw the nominations of Sharon Block and Robert Griffin to the National Labor Relations Board and replace them with alternative nominees. The two had previously been recess-appointed to the Board, an action a federal court ruled unconstitutional. The Senate had previously reached an agreement that alternatives would be nominated, but the White House ignored that deal.
Before the deal was announced, Democrat Sen. Carl Levin came out publicly against Reid’s rule change. Levin said changes to the Senate rules have to receive 67 votes, rather than the simply majority Reid asserts.
Sens. McCain, Alexander, Graham, Corker and Hoeven have spent the last several days trying to avert Reid’s nuclear option, which would prevent filibusters on Executive Branch nominations. The deal they secured creates a de-facto nuclear option. The GOP won’t block the pending nominations, who can now be confirmed by a simply majority.
The Senate will likely now operate with a temporary right to filibuster a nominee. The minority will have the ability to filibuster a controversial nominee until Reid wants to have a vote. A perpetual debate over the “nuclear option” is now a feature, not a bug, of Senate procedure.