By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. Senate set debate to begin on Friday on President Barack Obama's nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve, with confirmation expected on Saturday.
Democrats had hoped to confirm on Yellen on Thursday or Friday, and then adjourn for the year. But they failed to get a time agreement with Republicans to speed up the process.
Regardless, Yellen, now the Fed's vice chair, is expected to be confirmed with bipartisan support to replace Ben Bernanke, whose term expires next month.
A senior Democratic aide said that unless a time agreement is suddenly reached, the Senate would begin consideration at close to midnight EST on Thursday (0500 GMT Friday) of Alejandro Mayorkas as deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the first of four of Obama's pending nominees.
Under a tentative schedule and working around the clock, the Senate would vote to confirm Mayorkas before dawn on Friday, followed later in the day by John Koskinen to head the Internal Revenue Service and Brian Davis to be a federal judge in Florida.
The confirmation vote on Yellen is expected to occur at about 6 p.m. on Saturday (2300 GMT), the aide said.
The stage was set for this end-of-year battle when Democrats, who hold the Senate, 55-45, changed the rules last month to strip Republicans of their power to block most of Obama's nominees with procedural roadblocks known as filibusters.
Under the new rules, a nominee needs the support of only a simple majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than the earlier 60, to be confirmed.
The change, however, did not strip Republicans of their ability to slow down matters by refusing to yield back allotted debate time, which for a Cabinet-level nominee like Yellen is 30 hours.
For most lower-level picks, Democrats and Republicans get four hours each.
Earlier Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of obstructionism, and vowed to get the nominees confirmed.
"These are crucial nominations, and if that means working through the weekend and next week, so be it," Reid said.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader John Cornyn said, "The irony is that none of these nominations are particularly urgent."
"Even Ms Yellen - Bernanke's term doesn't end until the end of January - so this is all gratuitous from my perspective," Cornyn said.
After the Senate votes on Yellen, it could begin consideration of six more nominees, all of them for relatively lower-level posts.
Democrats have asked Republicans to agree to carry over the six until next year. But so far Republicans have refused.
Any nominee not confirmed by the end of the year would face the prospect of having to begin the process all over again next year with Obama renominating them.
McConnell said in a Senate speech that he would oppose the IRS nominee, denouncing as inadequate an investigation into the tax-collection agency's "incredible abuse of power" in targeting conservative groups for added scrutiny.
"The American people deserve answers about how and why this targeting happened. They deserve justice too. And I will not be supporting any nominee to lead this agency until the American people get the answers they deserve," McConnell said.
Reid urged confirmation of Koskinen to head the IRS, saying, "With all the problems we've had with the Internal Revenue Service ... we need to have someone running that agency."
Also on HuffPost:
National Security Adviser Susan Rice
National Security Adviser Susan Rice helps Obama keep America safe in the Situation Room by updating the President on latest details of any given crisis. Rice is pictured talking on her cell phone before a vote on a resolution on Syria in the United Nations Security Council during a meeting on Syria February 4, 2012 at the United Nations in New York. Rice transitioned from her role as U.S. Ambassador to National Security Adviser after Obama appointed her as Tom Donilon's successor on June 5, 2013.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power
Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power helps President Obama keep the peace while maintaining international relations on a daily basis. Obama appointed Power as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on June 5, 2013 after former Ambassador Susan Rice vacated the seat to succeed former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius helps keep Obama in-the-know with all health matters concerning the United States. Sebelius is pictured reacting as she administers polio vaccine to a child in New Delhi, India, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012. India marked one year since its last case of the crippling disease on Friday.
Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett
As one of Obama's closest confidantes, Jarrett helps the president stay engaged and on track. She also helps advise on matters of national and government policy. President Obama is pictured walking with Jarrett in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois on June 2, 2012.
White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz
Muñoz advises President Obama on domestic policy agenda and aids him with putting his priorities into action. Munoz is pictured reading 'Abuela' to local school children during an Education Department summer enrichment event, 'Let's Read, Let's Move' on July 30. The event was part of the Corporation for National and Community Service's summer 'United We Serve: Let's Read! Let's Move!' initiative, which engages youths in summer reading and physical activity, and provides information about healthy, affordable food.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
When Obama's party gets out of order, Pelosi does her best to get them into shape. At right, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. Republicans pushed legislation through the House on Wednesday to prevent a government shutdown this month while easing the short-term impact of $85 billion in spending cuts at the same time previewing a longer-term plan to erase federal deficits without raising taxes. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Small Business Administrator Karen Mills
Thriving small businesses are vital to the nation's economy. Mills has had the daunting task of spearheading the push to usher them through a nagging economic recession and toward recovery. At right, President Obama listens as Karen Mills, head of the Small Business Administration, speaks during a ceremony honoring the National Small Business Award Winners in the East Room of the White House in Washington on May 19, 2009.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
There are no shortage of threats facing the homeland. It's Napolitano's job to keep a keen eye on them and to make sure Obama is up to speed. She's announced she'll stay in the Obama administration for another term. At right, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano speaks during the White House daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House February 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. Napolitano spoke on the sequestration impact it would have for homeland security.
Former Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put in her time managing diplomacy abroad for President Obama. Perhaps Clinton also gives Obama hope for the Democratic Party after he leaves the White House in 2016. At right, Clinton jokes with outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, after a ceremony honoring and Panetta presented Clinton with the Defense Department's Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
Dr. Jill Biden keeps Vice President Joe Biden happy. You wouldn't like the VEEP when he is mad. Dr. Biden is pictured giving First Lady Michelle Obama a kiss.
Sasha & Malia Obama
President Obama can rest assured knowing his legacy will live on through his daughters. President Obama is pictured kissing his daughter Sasha on the head while his other daughter Malia, right, and first lady Michelle Obama look on while they attend an NCAA college basketball game between Howard and Oregon State in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010.
Behind Every Man...Is A Strong Woman
Behind every move President Obama makes -- wrong or right -- First Lady Michelle Obama is there serving as a strong and opinionated companion. President Obama is pictured celebrating with his wife on stage after Obama delivered his acceptance speech on November 7, 2012 in Chicago.
Did We Mention POTUS Loves FLOTUS?
The First Lady is far more than a style-icon and a wife, she also juggles several of her own projects, including <a href="http://www.letsmove.gov/">Let's Move!</a> President Obama is pictured with First Lady Michelle Obama dancing at the Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.