Reid pushes Senate to marathon session to confirm nominees

BY Christina Bellantoni  December 12, 2013 at 8:50 AM EDT

A Senate employee walks through the Capitol Crypt at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

It’s not often the Senate works through the night.

But Republicans — still fuming because the Democrats who control the chamber forced through a rule change to speed up the confirmation process for presidential nominees — have worked to throw a wrench in the works and slow it down as much as they are able.

The Morning LineThe protest against the so-called “nuclear option” is a planned strategy to respond to what Democrats did before Thanksgiving recess. Basically, the GOP is refusing to “yield back time” on debates, even when there isn’t a real debate happening.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe breaks down the details.

Republicans warned when Democrats voted to change the rules that they would use all other procedural tactics at their disposal to slow the consideration of nominees, including declining to yield back hours of time set aside for each nominee, as historically has been the practice.

After the vote on [Chai Rachel] Feldblum [on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission], the process will continue throughout Thursday and into Friday, with procedural and final confirmation votes on four nominees to serve on U.S. district courts in Montana, New Hampshire and New York; on Deborah Lee James to serve as secretary of the Air Force; Heather Higginbottom to serve as the deputy secretary of state for management; and Anne Patterson, to serve as an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.

At some point Friday, the Senate will consider the nomination of Jeh C. Johnson to serve as the next homeland security secretary. Aides said the Senate likely would break overnight Friday and return Saturday afternoon for a final vote on Johnson’s confirmation.

And the New York Times Jeremy W. Peters details the early-morning vote to confirm Cornelia T. L. Pillard to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit:

Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, kept the Senate in session through the night and early morning, and has vowed to continue calling round-the-clock votes through the weekend if Republicans continue to delay the process.

Under the body’s rules, the minority party can force the Senate to use all of the time required for debate on any given nomination. In the case of Ms. Pillard, the amount of time allotted was 30 hours. Shortly after 1 a.m., the Senate confirmed her by a 51-44 vote.

The Senate will vote Thursday morning on other nominations. An aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quipped each of the votes is on a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle.

“If we are forced to run out all the clocks, it will take us until Saturday afternoon(ish) to work through this list,” the aide noted.

But the major focus of Thursday’s activities is a scheduled vote on the budget compromise hammered out by chairpersons Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray.

Politico’s Glenn Thrush examined in detail Speaker John Boehner’s challenge as the Ohio Republican blasted conservative groups for opposing the deal. Initial reports ahead of that vote said that Republican leadership aides are confident the measure can clear the House.

Still, a big sticking point remains whether Congress will extend unemployment benefits, something Democrats have clamored for. The House also is debating a measure to extend funding under the farm bill, which is still tied up in negotiations, until Jan. 31.

Republicans want to see money put in place to patch Medicare payments to doctors, known as the “doc fix,” and Democrats contend they should get the unemployment insurance extension as part of that deal.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday that President Barack Obama “will continue to advocate for this.” He added:

“There have been a few previous occasions where we’ve come down to the wire like this, and through the President’s cajoling and advocating we’ve gotten some congressional action. It remains to be seen if that will happen in this case, but that’s certainly something that we’re advocating for.”

The fragile agreements could be impacted by the unemployment insurance fight. We’ll be watching how it develops as the House attempts to pass the budget compromise before the Friday deadline and get out of town for the holidays.

And Senate Republicans could always slow down the process once the measure gets to that chamber.

On the NewsHour Wednesday, anchor Judy Woodruff fielded a debate between Democratic former Obama administration “car czar” Steven Rattner, Republican former George W. Bush administration adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Heritage fellow Romina Boccia.

Each panelist agreed that the budget deal is not ideal. “But if you look inside this agreement, not everything is about budget dollars. Sometimes, it’s policy that matters,” Holtz-Eakin said. “So we are going to ask new federal employees to make higher contributions for their pensions.”

Watch the segment here or below:

 

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  • That unfiltered Skype chat Vice President Joe Biden hosted about immigration? Actually filtered.
  • The White House clarified that incoming administration adviser John Podesta will not actually recuse himself from the Keystone XL Pipeline issue. But he will steer clear of decisions and advice about it when working with the president.
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  • Peter Hamby reports for CNN that the Republican National Committee is looking to force some major changes to the party’s nominating process ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Sen. Lamar Alexander’s chief of staff Ryan Loskarn was arrested Wednesday based on probable cause of possession and distribution of child pornography. Alexander, R-Tenn., made a statement after his arrest saying he has removed Loskarn from the payroll. The senator’s staff director David Cleary was promoted to hold the chief of staff role. The former aide is expected to appear at a hearing Thursday morning.
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  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Aileen Graef and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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