'Nuclear Option' Filibuster Showdown Fizzling As GOP Set To Relent On Nominations

07/16/2013 08:11 am ET | Updated Jul 16, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The Senate appeared to be stepping back from the "nuclear option" Tuesday morning, with a group of Republicans led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ready to let presidential nominations get past the roadblocks thrown up by the GOP.

The first test of whether or not there is an agreement will come at about 11 a.m., when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brings up the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP has blocked any nominee to the agency since it was created, and although few senators object to Cordray personally, they have prevented his confirmation.

President Barack Obama named Cordray to the bureau anyway in 2011, placing him in charge with a controversial recess appointment in 2011 that angered the GOP. Yet even a decent number of Republicans seem to think the obstruction has gone too far, and will not balk at Cordray after lengthy private meeting of all senators Monday night, a Democratic aide said on background as negotiations continue. Six other nominees are also on deck, but if Republicans allow consideration of Cordray in the morning, debate will begin on his position for up to eight hours before the others come up.

The apparent agreement comes after the full Senate met behind closed doors for three and a half hours Monday night. Of course, Republicans could change their minds at any step along the way, and Democrats were still maintaining the threat until all the nominees are approved.

"The only chance we don't go nuclear is if Republicans give us all seven nominees with no conditions on future action [and] no promises not to go nuclear in the future," the Democratic aide said.

Democrats have ratcheted up their threats of using the nuclear option in recent days, meaning they would employ procedural tactics to pass new rules allowing simple majority votes on nominations.

The aide said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was no longer involved in talks, but McCain and other Republicans "are so sick of the gridlock themselves" that they are essentially ready to let Obama have his nominees, including members of the National Labor Relations Board whose recess appointments were found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. (The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.)

As of Tuesday, Cordray has been waiting 730 days for a vote on his nomination. Gina McCarthy, tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has waited 134 days. Department of Labor nominee Thomas Perez is up to 121 days. Two of the NLRB nominees -- Sharon Block and Richard Griffin -- have been waiting for 579 days.

On the one hand, such an agreement to get the nominees passed would be a major victory for Obama and Reid -- and a step back toward a somewhat more functional Senate -- but without changes to filibuster rules, it would also leave in place the ability of the minority party to erect random roadblocks to nominees.

If the McCain-led group comes through, "we'd have trouble holding the caucus, who would fear seeming unreasonable. Which is legitimate," the aide said, meaning old-line Dems such as Michigan Sen. Carl Levin would likely not go along with the nuclear option.

"We'd win a restoration of the principle that executive nominations should get simple up or down votes, and maintain the threat of going nuclear if Republicans diverge from that in the future," the aide said. "I think it's pretty clear at this point that it's a credible threat and we have the votes."

CORRECTION: The original story misidentified Department of Labor nominee Thomas Perez as Richard Perez.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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