Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s threat to change the chamber’s rules and weaken the Republican’ minority’s hand in voting on certain nominees roiled the chamber. Senators called Reid's move using the "nuclear option," a term that clearly is overblown, but shows how important the issue is to the lawmakers.
Reid told reporters in a July 16 afternoon press briefing that that agreement with Republicans was nearly complete, except for “dotting I’s and crossing the T’s.” (C-span video of press conference.)
The Nevadan said it would allow floor votes on President Obama's nominees for seats on the National Labor Relations Board. It also would clear the way for action on several other nominees, including the heads of the Labor Dept., Environmental Protection Agency, Export-Import Bank and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The first of the nominee to clear the hurdle was Richard Cordray of the CFPB, whom the Senate confirmed late in the afternoon of July 16, just hours after Reid spoke. The vote was 66-34. Cordray has been in charge of the agency since early 2012, under a recess appointment.
Reid said the Senate could vote on Thomas Perez, Obama's pick to be Labor Secretary, "in the next day or two." The chamber also is expected to vote soon on Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice to lead the EPA.
The main focus was on two nominees for seats on the NLRB, Sharon Block and Richard F. Griffin Jr., both Democrats. Obama had named both of them to the labor board on Jan. 4, 2012, under recess appointments.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters after the July 15 meeting that agreeing to Block and Griffin would be difficult for some Republicans because they view their nominations as “illegally made.”
(CFPB's Cordray received a recess appointment the same day as Block and Griffin, but apparently some Republicans didn't find him as objectionable as the NLRB picks.)
The deal also calls for the Obama administration to send up to the Senate the names of two new NLRB nominees, replacing Block and Griffin.
Later on July 16, the White House announced that the new NLRB nominees would be former AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Nancy Schiffer and Kent Hirozawa, chief counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce, a Democrat.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters July 16 , “What we anticipate having on the floor of the Senate sometime before the [August] recess are two new nominees.”(C-span video of press conference.)
Three less-controversial NLRB nominees also would get votes: Current board chairman Pearce, whose current term will expire Aug. 27; and Harry I. Johnson III and Philip Miscimarra, both Republicans.
Reid agreed with the timetable McConnell outlined, saying he hoped that a floor vote on the package of the five NLRB nominees could take place “as early as late next week or early the following week.”
McConnell says that under the deal Republicans would not lose any procedural rights—the nominees still would be subject to 60-vote majority requirement.
Reid said Republicans are not "sacrificing their right to filibuster and we damn sure aren't [sacrificing] our right to change the rules if necessary, which I'm confident won't be."
Updated on 7/17/13 with White House announcement of new NLRB nominees.