'We Have a New Start': Nuclear Option Threat Ends in Kumbaya Moment

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats and Republicans reached a last-second agreement on Tuesday that aborted the planned deployment of the so-called “nuclear option” but nothing was achieved that might block the controversial rules change from being implemented in the future.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, vowed to change Senate rules if GOP lawmakers continued to stand in the way of confirming President Obama’s nominees to key administration posts. Reid threatened to prohibit filibusters on White House choices, thus effectively changing the number of votes required for approval of a nominee from 60 to 51.

But after an extraordinary three-and-a-half hour closed-door meeting involving almost every member of the upper chamber on Monday evening, lawmakers reached a compromise eventually brokered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Republicans agreed not to block a vote to proceed on the confirmation of Richard Cordray to serve as the director of the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. GOP lawmakers kept the commitment, with the Cordray nomination advancing to a final floor vote as the result of a 71-29 tally on Tuesday.

In addition, the GOP is expected to permit votes on Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez, EPA nominee Gina McCarthy and Export-Import Bank nominee Fred Hochberg to proceed.

In exchange, Reid agreed to pull two White House nominees for the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block. Two alternative nominees -- Nancy Schiffer, associate general counsel at the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, chief counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston -- are expected to take their place. Republicans have vowed not to filibuster those two choices and it’s expected they will be confirmed before the August recess.

Reid threatened to change the rules noting that Obama, in his fifth year in office, is still encountering problems getting his team together because of Republican obstruction. He expressed confidence that the agreement will mute such tactics and lead to a more cooperative atmosphere.

The purpose of the debate, Reid said, was to “restore the ability of the Senate to function.”

“I’m very encouraged by the discussions we’ve had over the last few days,” Reid said. “Both sides understand each other better. We’ve taken great strides to restore the comity and cooperation that used to define this great institution.”

The Senate, he said, “should be a place where we engage in spirited debate and get things done for the American people. So I’m hopeful and confident this agreement will prove a major step toward achieving that goal.”

But it’s also true there’s nothing in the agreement to prohibit Republicans from filibustering future nominees.

“They’re not sacrificing their right to filibuster and we damn sure aren’t filibustering our right to change the rules if necessary,” Reid said.

Regardless, Reid said he is looking ahead.

“Does that mean it will last forever? I don’t know about that,” he said. “But we have a good feeling with the Democrats and the Republicans. We have a new start for this body and I feel very comfortable with it. I couldn’t be happier.”