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Senate steps back from brink in nominations fight

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., right, speak to reporters after the Senate stepped back from the brink of a political meltdown, clearing the way for confirmation of one of President Barack Obama’s long-stalled nominations, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2013.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., right, speak to reporters after the Senate stepped back from the brink of a political meltdown, clearing the way for confirmation of one of President Barack Obama’s long-stalled nominations, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Senate stepped away from the brink of a meltdown yesterday, confirming one of President Obama’s long-stalled nominees, agreeing to quick action on others and finessing a Democratic threat to overturn historic rules that protect minority-party rights.

“Nobody wants to come to Armageddon here,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat whose talks with Arizona Republican John McCain were critical in avoiding a collision that had threatened to plunge the Senate even deeper into partisan gridlock.

McCain, a veteran of uncounted legislative struggles, told reporters that forging the deal was “probably the hardest thing I’ve been involved in.”

The White House reaped the first fruits of the deal within hours, when Richard Cordray’s nomination to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was approved, 66-34. He was first nominated in July 2011 and has been in office by virtue of a recess appointment that bypassed the Senate.

In a written statement, Obama said he was pleased by the developments and that he hoped Congress would “build on this spirit of cooperation” to pass immigration legislation and rein in interest rates on student loans, among other measures.

As part of yesterday’s agreement, both parties preserved their rights to resume combat over nominations in the future, Republicans by delaying votes and Democrats by threatening once again to change the rules governing such delays.

Still, officials in both parties said they hoped the deal would signal a new, less acrimonious time for the Senate, with critical decisions ahead on spending, the government’s borrowing authority, student loan interest rates and more.

Under the agreement, several of seven stalled nominees would win confirmation later in the week, including Labor Secretary-designate Tom Perez; Gina McCarthy, named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and Fred Hochberg to head of the Export-Import Bank.

“I think we get what we want, they get what they want. Not a bad deal,” said Reid.

“Crisis averted,” said the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Scarcely 24 hours earlier, Reid had insisted that if Republicans didn’t stop blocking confirmation of all seven, he would trigger a change in the Senate’s procedures to strip them of their ability to delay. At the core of the dispute is the minority party’s power to stall or block a yes-or-no vote on nearly anything, from legislation to judicial appointments to relatively routine nominations for administration positions.

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