A threat from Senate Democrats to circumvent traditional rules to clear the way for GOP-blocked nominees of President Barack Obama was averted Tuesday, enabling the group to finally move toward a proper confirmation vote on the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—two years after he was first appointed.
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker split their votes to end debate on confirming Richard Cordray as the agency's head, casting votes against and in support of the measure, respectively.
Later Tuesday afternoon, Alexander and Corker cast additional nay and yea votes on officially confirming Cordray's nomination.
The move came after threats by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to espouse "the nuclear option," a procedural tactic that would have allowed the number of votes needed to confirm presidential appointees to be 51 instead of the traditional 60-vote threshold. Reid cited repeated filibusters by Republican senators as his reason for considering the tactic, drawing criticism from Alexander and others.
Elements of Tuesday's compromise were hashed out Monday night in a closed-door meeting of senators in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber. As part of their deal, two new nominees for the National Labor Relations Board will be chosen as replacements for appointees picked by Obama during a recess in 2011. Votes will also be scheduled for Department of Labor and Environmental Protection Agency nominees.
Corker was one of 12 Republican senators to cast a vote in favor of confirming Cordray. In 2011, he opposed Obama's initial nomination of the former Ohio attorney general, who has headed the new agency charged with monitoring financial organizations.
A spokeswoman for Corker said the senator, a member of the Senate Banking Committee and former Chattanooga mayor, offered little comment on his decision to back Obama's appointee.
"Sen. Corker believes a great deal of long-term damage would have been done to the Senate if an agreement had not been reached to keep the filibuster in place and is pleased Senate leaders reached a solution to prevent this from occurring, without altering the 60-vote requirement to confirm nominees," Laura Herzog, communications director, said in an emailed statement.
Alexander, who repeatedly threatened Republican blowback if the nuclear option had been given the green light by Reid, said he opposed Cordray's nomination despite the compromise because his recess appointment had violated "constitutional powers." In January, a court ruling declared appointments made by Obama to the National Labor Relations Board to be unconstitutional and invalid but did not rule on the validity of Cordray's appointment.
"I voted against Mr. Cordray because President Obama made the appointment using his recess authority when the Senate was not in recess, thereby violating the constitutional powers that provides the necessary checks and balances within government to protect our liberties," Alexander said in an emailed statement.
Updated @ 8:52 a.m. on 7/17/13 to correct a typographical error.