Senate Steps Back From Nuclear Brink, Inches Toward Cordray Nomination

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J. Scott Applewhite / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is surrounded by reporters as he returns to his office after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2013.

The Senate voted 71-29 to move forward with the nomination of Richard Cordray for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who predicted Cordray would pass the procedural hurdle after a night of closed-door discussions and flurry of morning phone calls, said it was an offer of “good faith” by Republicans. Cordray has waited two years for confirmation, and has been serving as director since January 2012 when he was placed in the job through a recess appointment. He will likely face a final vote today.

Before the debate, Reid said he was “fairly confident” that there was a way forward. To avert the nuclear proposal, which would have ended the ability of a minority of Senators to block many presidential nominations, Senate leadership reached a tentative deal, reported by POLITICO, where President Barack Obama would pull two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board – Sharon Block and Richard Griffin – and replace them with two nominees who would receive Senate votes quickly. Obama appointed Democrats Block and Griffin to the NLRB when Congress was out of session, a so-called “recess appointment” that was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court. The board will be run by two Republicans and one Democrat if Block and Griffin aren’t confirmed, or replaced by other Democrats.

In return for replacing Block and Griffin, Republicans would allow the five other nominees Reid wanted to go forward – including those of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Gina McCarthy as Environmental Protection Agency administrator and Thomas Perez as Labor secretary. “I think everyone will be happy. It is a compromise. I think we get what we want, and they get what they want. Not a bad deal,” said Reid before the vote. He praised Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in particular for his efforts. “No one was able to break through except him.” The White House has not yet agreed to the deal.

Last night Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi, told TIME that Reid could have received all of the seven slots in controversy if Republicans reserved the right to executive nominations. That deal was reportedly struck down because McConnell wanted Reid to refrain from the nuclear option in the future, which Reid wouldn’t accept because McConnell refused to forgo filibustering future presidential nominees. The Cordray vote, which indicates future bipartisan discussion, allows both sides to keep their tools of leverage in the future.

UPDATE 5:40PM: The Senate approved Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by a vote of 66 to 34.