A week ago, it looked like the Senate was gearing up for some major nominating fights. Richard Cordray's nomination to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was ready to be brought the floor, as were Thomas Perez's Labor Secretary nomination and Gina McCarthy's EPA nomination. The result would some knock-down-drag-out fights that could dictate the future of how the chamber deals with administration nominees.
And then ... nothing. Even Cordray's nomination, which was slated for tomorrow, was pulled from the schedule. What happened? Brian Beutler reports this morning:
Cordray will now most likely get his chance after immigration reform legislation clears the Senate. And not because Reid is giving up on Cordray's nomination, but because he wants to turn Cordray and a handful of other nominees into a test of the GOP's vows to filibuster top Obama picks, including two designated cabinet secretaries.
The move serves two purposes: First, it removes one of the largest pretexts Republicans will have to walk away from immigration reform. Second, it puts Republicans on the spot in an exquisite -- and in Reid's mind necessary -- way, thus providing the nominees their best chance at confirmation, and leaving Democrats little choice, if the GOP blocks them, but to change the rules to immunize executive and judicial nominees from filibuster.
A senior Democratic aide told Brian the idea is to set up "back-to-back-to-back confirmation votes" on Cordray, Perez, and McCarthy. My sources have suggested President Obama's nominees to lead the ATF and sit on the NLRB may also in the mix as part of the same effort.
If the Senate is allowed to exercise its advise-and-consent role, fine -- these nominees will be confirmed and the chamber will move on to other business. If the Republican minority blocks some or all of these nominees, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will, in theory, be able to credibly argue that the GOP has given him no other choice but to pursue the "nuclear option."
Why not do this sooner rather than later? Two reasons.
First, Reid and Senate Dems see immigration as so important, they're inclined to push everything off until the reform bill has cleared the chamber. Once it's done, Democrats will feel freer to use hardball tactics to combat Republican obstructionism -- knowing that forcing the confrontation now would almost certainly derail the bipartisan legislation.
Second, if Reid is serious about the "nuclear option," he's going to need at least 51 votes to pull it off. That may sound easy given that the Senate Democratic caucus has 55 members, but let's not forget that plenty of those 55 have proven to be very reluctant when it comes to changing how the Senate operates. If they were uncomfortable with filibuster reform in January, the "nuclear option" is likely to be a tough sell, too.
Either way, this is a major fight on the horizon. As Brian concluded, "That effectively puts Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on a collision course. If McConnell caves or works out an agreement with Reid, then the nuclear option will become inoperative. But if he doesn't and these confirmation votes fail, then Reid will either have to admit defeat or do ... something. In that sense he's essentially building a 'permission structure' for himself and his caucus to do something about the rules in the event that Republicans make good on their threats."