Melvin Watt, a former congressman, is President Obama's nominee… (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg )
WASHINGTON — The Senate has confirmed five members of the National Labor Relations Board, meeting the final conditions of an agreement forestalling a change to the chamber's rules that allow a minority to block action using a filibuster.
But the brinkmanship that took the Senate to the verge of what was dubbed a "nuclear" showdown could return this fall, as the Democratic majority seeks to move to other stalled nominations.
The deal brokered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and others was limited but produced significant results. At one point the possibility that President Obama could be denied his choice for Labor secretary seemed very real. But Thomas E. Perez was narrowly confirmed for that job, as was Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
And with Tuesday's vote, the NLRB, which in effect had faced a shutdown next month, instead will have a full slate of Senate-confirmed members for the first time since 2003, all of whom will serve for the remainder of Obama's term. The board acts as the arbiter in disputes between labor and management in unionized workplaces.
Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer were approved, 54 to 44, with just one Republican vote. Mark Gaston Pearce, the NLRB chairman, was confirmed for a new term, 59 to 38. Two Republicans, Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, were confirmed by voice votes.
When the nominations agreement was reached, senators expressed hope it would foster a more positive environment. That optimism will be tested quickly.
According to the White House, 135 executive nominations were pending in Senate committees as of Tuesday morning, with 40 more awaiting final floor votes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called for additional votes this week, starting with B. Todd Jones, Obama's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. If approved, he would be the first confirmed director in seven years. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said last week that Jones' nomination could be the "beginning of the next round of controversy."
But Democrats are optimistic that Jones could attract more than the requisite 60 votes to break a filibuster now that the National Rifle Assn. has announced it will remain neutral on his nomination. The gun lobby had opposed previous nominees.
Reid also has scheduled a vote on Samantha Power, nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She is expected to face limited opposition.
The next nominee Republicans seem to be gearing up to fight is Melvin Watt, a former Democratic congressman from North Carolina whom Obama nominated to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Even McCain, who has signaled a greater willingness to work with the administration, said he could join fellow Republicans in seeking to block Watt.
"This agreement did not prevent us from blocking any nomination under any circumstance. And if anybody thought that, they were wrong," McCain said.
Republicans question Watt's qualifications to lead the complex agency. At the confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, ranking Republican Sen. Michael D. Crapo of Idaho also questioned the "political nature" of the choice, while praising acting director Edward J. DeMarco as having the unquestioned "technical expertise" to lead the agency.
Republicans have supported DeMarco, who has blocked several efforts by the administration to use the agency's authority more aggressively in combating foreclosures. DeMarco has argued that the administration's plan would put taxpayer money at risk. He remains acting director until a nominee is confirmed.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said there was resistance among Republicans to "putting a politician into a regulator's role."
"I just want a technocrat. I know they don't like the technocrat that's there. Get a Democratic technocrat," he said.
Reid confirmed Tuesday that no vote on Watt was possible before the Senate breaks Friday for a monthlong recess.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of a group of junior Democrats who have called for filibuster reform, told constituents Monday that if Republicans did seek to block Watt he would renew his call for rule changes.
Democrats have faced hurdles with other pending nominations. Republicans boycotted a committee hearing last week to consider a candidate for the No. 2 position at the Department of Homeland Security. Alejandro Mayorkas would be in line to serve as acting secretary of the department when Janet Napolitano steps down in September to run the University of California system.