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

Republicans were more muted in their assessment of the agreement, insisting they got what they wanted by forcing Obama to withdraw his two NLRB nominees. Both were initially installed and were already serving on the board as recess appointments, which allowed them to serve until the end of the 113th Congress. But Republicans objected, maintaining the Senate wasn’t in recess when the appointments were made, rendering them unconstitutional, and they balked when Democrats tried to get them empaneled through a more traditional means.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, said he told Vice President Joe Biden some days ago that the withdrawal of the Griffin and Block nominations could result in a solution to what he called the “threatened blowup.”

“The 60-vote threshold on controversial nominees will still have to be achieved,” McConnell said. “So in a sense that’s the regular way that we handle business here in the Senate. And we’re pleased that the majority decided not to exercise the nuclear option. We think that’s in the best interests of the institution.”

Negotiations, McConnell said, led to “a constructive outcome and an opportunity to get back to normal.”

“So I think that crisis has been averted,” he said. “We still will be dealing with controversial nominees in the way controversial nominees inevitably produce -- a great debate. And all the options that are available to the minority remain intact.”

Like Reid, McConnell said he hopes a new spirit will prevail in the upper chamber.

“I think I’m safe in saying a high level of collegiality on a bipartisan basis was achieved as a result of last night,” he said. “And you can pick at it if you want to but I think it was an important moment for the Senate.”

“Put this down as progress in the right direction and the best possible atmosphere to go into the balance of the year where we have much tougher issues to deal with down the road,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, the Senate Republican whip, expressed satisfaction that the administration would withdraw the NLRB nominations and that “the White House decided to take the nuclear trigger out of Sen. Reid’s hand.”

The chamber, Cornyn said, can now “pivot back to the people’s business and deal with the things that my constituents and I think people around the country are most concerned about” – issues like economic growth, unemployment and Obamacare.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), a freshman who served as one of the most vocal advocates for deploying the nuclear option, nonetheless said he was pleased with Tuesday’s result, calling it “a significant moment in ending the deep freeze and putting us back onto a functional path to take on the challenges that America expects us to address.”

President Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney said the administration will be “glad to see a resolution that results in the speedy confirmation of the president’s qualified nominees to these positions that have been at issue.” He added that the White House was not involved in the negotiations.

“The White House provided information and answered questions when it came to working with Senate Republicans, including, of course, Sen. McCain, who, again, as I understand it, based on what we've seen, deserves significant credit for his efforts in trying to find a resolution here -- a resolution that allows for hopefully the speedy confirmation of the president’s nominees,” Carney said.