The Senate stepped away from the brink of a meltdown Tuesday, confirming one of President Barack Obama’s nominees long stalled by Republicans, agreeing to quick action on others and finessing a Democratic threat to overturn historic rules that protect minority-party rights.
“Nobody wants to come to Armageddon here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat whose talks with Arizona Republican John McCain were critical in avoiding a collision that had threatened to plunge the Senate even deeper into partisan gridlock.
McCain, a veteran of uncounted legislative struggles, told reporters that forging the deal was “probably the hardest thing I’ve been involved in.”
The White House reaped the first fruits of the deal within hours, when Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was approved 66-34. The former Ohio attorney general was nominated in July 2011 and has been in office by virtue of a recess appointment that bypassed the Senate.
In a written statement, Obama said he was pleased by the developments and that he hoped Congress would “build on this spirit of cooperation” to pass immigration legislation and rein in interest rates on student loans, among other measures.
As part of Tuesday’s agreement, both parties preserved their rights to resume combat over nominations in the future, Republicans by delaying votes and Democrats by threatening once again to change the rules governing such delays.
Still, officials in both parties said they hoped the deal would signal a new, less-acrimonious time for the Senate, with critical decisions ahead on spending, the government’s borrowing authority, student-loan interest rates and more.
Under the agreement, several of seven stalled nominees would win confirmation later in the week, including Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy, named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Fred Hochberg, appointed head of the Export-Import Bank, is on track for approval today.
Even before the agreement was ratified by the rank and file, Cordray’s long-stalled nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau advanced toward approval on a test vote of 71-29, far more than the 60 required.