WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will delay votes on several of President Obama’s nominees for key posts until July, a decision raising the prospect that he’ll seek further changes to Senate rules that would allow executive appointments to be confirmed by a simple majority.
Senate leaders had considered holding a vote this week to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a nomination Republicans have maintained they would filibuster unless the Obama administration agreed to overhaul the agency.
Action is also pending on two of Obama’s Cabinet nominations — Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator — after party-line votes in Senate committees last week. Two other Cabinet picks face confirmation hearings later this week.
At his weekly news conference, Reid told reporters that he would not bring those nominations to the full Senate until after it considers two major pieces of legislation, the farm bill and comprehensive immigration reform.
“So we'll have to look at July,” he said, with the possible exception of a pending nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals. “We're going to make sure that all the nominees have votes.”
Reid declined to discuss further changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules Tuesday. But in recent weeks he has been ratcheting up pressure on Republicans over what he has called “blanket, partisan obstruction” of executive agency choices.
Waiting until after the Senate acts on immigration reform, in particular, would allow any action — or threat of action — on rules changes to occur separately from one of Obama’s most significant second-term priorities and well before major budget battles that are expected to resume in the fall.
Under current Senate rules, overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes.
The Senate did adopt a scaled-down version of filibuster reform at the start of its current term, but some Democrats have continued to press for further changes that would limit senators’ ability to block action that has support from a majority of members. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), one of those pushing for more changes, said last week that “frustration [was] turning into fury” over stalled nominations in particular.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered that the body has been “actually processing nominations very rapidly.”
“Confirmation, by and large, has been handled in a very bipartisan way this year,” he told reporters, adding that four times as many judicial and executive branch nominations have been confirmed thus far than at a similar point in George W. Bush’s second term.
McConnell said Reid had said earlier in the year that he would not pursue a so-called “nuclear option” for the rest of the session. “I take him at his word.”
But Democrats’ allies in organized labor are also pushing for rules changes that would make it easier to confirm Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. A Senate committee is scheduled to vote on five nominees Wednesday. If none are confirmed by August, the panel would lose its ability to function.
“Unless we start seeing a more cooperative atmosphere around here … there’s going to continue to be speculation about changing the rules,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat.