Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Closure? Cloture?

Yesterday, news broke of Senator Harry Reid (D) preparing to change filibuster rules if President Obama's executive nominations remain indefinitely blocked. The entire Senate held a private caucus last night to try to reach some sort of last minute deal. While Senator Reid rejected Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Kentucky) "offer" of some confirmations in exchange for unilateral disarmament, Senator Reid is now looking to other Reoublicans to reach a possible solution.

It remains possible the nuclear option will be avoided this time around as a group of Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), are easing up on the stalled nominees. As Reid sees it, he’s calling the shots over McConnell.

“We’re fighting for the principle that executive nominees should get up-or-down votes,” the senior Democratic aide said. “If Republicans will give us that, there’s a chance we won’t go nuclear, but we will maintain the ability to go nuclear if they start filibustering nominees again.”

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) all but admitted that Richard Cordray had the votes to be confirmed to the CFPB. The remaining discussions are about confirming the two NLRB picks — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. If they go through, Reid will have no incentive to go nuclear this time around, but people close to him say he refuses to give up his right to do what’s needed to make sure the Senate functions in the future.

“This would also be a rebuke to McConnell from his caucus,” the aide continued, “since the group [of Republicans] we’re talking with is so sick of the obstruction themselves that they’re basically willing to give us everything we’re asking for with no conditions on future action.”

In recent years, Senator Reid has tried several workarounds to try to move legislation in the Senate. While this has resulted in a few legislative victories, Senate gridlock has nonetheless hit an all time high. And Senator Reid seems to be ready to start changing this.

Already, Senate Republicans seem to be buckling under pressure.

As of now, the votes are still on. The first test vote will happen around 11 ET this morning for Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board. If he gets more than 60 votes, which is likely, then there will be eight hours of "debate" on his nomination. Republicans could choose to give their time back and not use up the eight hours, but that's highly unlikely. Negotiations on the remaining nominees will continue. The next two up are the key to the current impasse, the National Labor Relations Board nominees.

Republicans have essentially relented on all of the nominees except the two NLRB picks, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin. They want substitute choices for those nominees, reportedly any two new nominees of President Obama's choice. What that gives the Republicans is the continued dysfunctional NLRB. The deadline for confirmation on these appointments is August 27. Two new candidates would have to be vetted, passed through committee and brought to the floor in record time, all before the Senate goes into its August recess beginning August 5. That's essentially impossible.

Now, it's just a matter of whether Senate Republicans are finally willing to let President Obama govern. Will they do it? Or will they force Senator Reid to finally "go nuclear" to get something done?

It may ultimately come down to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees labor practices. Senate Republicans have been indefinitely blocking President Obama's choices for NLRB. And so far, Senator Reid continues to insist their confirmations are the final keys to diffusing this filibuster showdown. So are Senate Republicans willing to deal?


And a deal has been reached. TPM has more details.

In short, Republicans would confirm nominees to all seven positions, a big concession for the GOP. But in a concession for Democrats, they would replace two recess-appointed nominees to the National Labor Relations Board — Sharon Block and Richard Griffin — with new nominees under the following condition: Republicans pledge to confirm any two replacements by President Obama to the board by Aug. 27.

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.

So President Obama will have to pick two new NLRB nominees. Then, all the vacancies will be confirmed and filled. So I guess this means crisis averted.

Of course, this also means major reform is also averted. But at least this time, Senator Reid has something to show for it.

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