The U.S. Senate reached a compromise that avoided a partisan clash over filibuster delays of White House nominees, which threatened to plunge the upper chamber into deeper political gridlock.
The deal was applauded by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who has championed filibuster reform. He said allowing simple up or down votes on presidential appointees to executive branch posts is a step toward historical normalcy in how the Senate treats confirmations.
The deal, which was reached after an unusual meeting of senators in the Old Senate Chamber where Henry Clay achieved his famous compromise delaying civil war, held as 17 GOP senators voted to end a silent filibuster blocking confirmation of Richard Cordray, President Obama's choice to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, who has been in the job on an acting basis, was formally confirmed later on a 66-34 vote.
Brokered in part by Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, the compromise opens the door to Senate approval of several stalled Obama White House nominees on the National Labor Relations Board and to lead the Labor Department, Environmental Protection Agency and Export-Import Bank.
It appears judicial nominees remain fair game for filibusters under the compromise. Senators from both sides of the political aisle are reluctant to give up that barrier to an unwanted nomination.
"By moving forward on these nominees," Merkley said in a prepared statement, "we will put a cop on the beat protecting families from predatory financial practices, strengthen the fight against global climate change and protect our middle class and working families from workplace abuses."
Merkley warned that "special interests" may continue to push for filibusters as a way "to obstruct our progressive agenda at every turn."
The compromise on executive branch appointees avoided, at least for now, a threatened action by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make major changes to filibuster rules, which Merkley has advocated. The so-called nuclear option turned out to be enough of a threat to earn a compromise.
McCain said he hoped that the give-and-take in the historical bowels of the Capitol may extend to other issues, including immigration reform passed by the Senate, but blocked by House Republicans.
The skirmish also revealed what amounted to a near-total breakdown in the working relationship between Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
Confirming a host of White House nominees also may relieve pressure on cases pending in the Supreme Court challenging Obama end-runs around the Senate to get his appointees on the job.
In the past seven years, there have been 420 filibusters in the Senate. That's the same number of filibusters during the seven decades between 1917 and 1987.