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Reid Defends Obama’s Right to Pick Staff as Clash Looms

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is seeking to end delays in confirming U.S. President Barack Obama's nominees including the labor secretary and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended President Barack Obama’s right to pick his team, trying to build support ahead of a fight with Republicans over changing Senate rules to speed up executive nominations.

Reid is seeking to end delays in confirming Obama nominees including the labor secretary and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. While the Nevada Democrat said on July 11 he has enough votes to change Senate rules and bar the minority party from obstructing executive-branch nominees, Republicans said they may halt Senate business in protest.

“Whoever is president should be able to have the people on their team that they want,” Reid said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press. ‘‘The changes we’re making are very, very minimal, what we’re doing is saying: look American people, shouldn’t President Obama have somebody working for him that he wants?”

The delays have prevented Obama from filling vacancies in his second-term cabinet and other top jobs. A vote on the nominees could come as early as this coming week.

The nominations of Thomas Perez to run the Labor Department, Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA and Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau face Republican opposition and risk failing in a filibuster. It takes 60 votes to end the delaying tactic, and Democrats control 54 seats, including the two independents who caucus with the party.

Nuclear Option

The parties have been sparring for weeks over Reid’s threat to seek a permanent change in rules that would ban filibusters of executive-branch nominees. Republicans say that breaks a pledge by Reid not to take such a step, and they say it would constitute a “nuclear option” that could cause them to use filibusters in other ways to halt work in the Senate.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, responded to Reid on the same NBC program by saying that changing Senate rules would be a “big mistake.”

“It’s breaking the rules of the Senate in order to change the rules of the Senate,” McConnell said today. He said he hopes the Senate will “pull back from the brink” at a meeting of all 100 senators tomorrow night to resolve the issue.

Both Reid and McConnell urged House of Representatives to work on immigration legislation after Senate approved a bill on June 27.

Border Security

“Even though the Senate bill in my view is deficient on the issue of border security, I hope we can get an outcome for the country that improves the current situation,” McConnell said. “I hope the House will be able to move forward on something.”

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who serves at the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program that there’s too much funding for border security in the Senate legislation and that it was included because it was important to Republicans.

“When it comes to border security, for some it’s never enough,” Durbin said.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to sign immigration legislation by the end of this year. The issue is his highest domestic priority thus far in his second term, after he won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in November. Republicans, in turn, want to boost their party’s appeal with Hispanics after 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney promoted self-deportation as the answer to illegal immigration.

Midterm Elections

The House Republicans’ decision to act in a piecemeal fashion, instead of on one comprehensive immigration bill, points to a process that may spill into the 2014 midterm election season and jeopardize final negotiations. Democrats say that if Congress doesn’t agree on legislation by the end of the year, an immigration-law revision may fall by the wayside.

The Senate bill, S. 744, combines a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with a $46 billion border-security plan. While 14 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in passing the bill, many House Republicans oppose the citizenship path.

The Senate’s immigration plan includes a provision similar to the Dream Act, which provides a faster path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who attended college or served in the military.

Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said he supports legalizing undocumented immigrants “as long as other things are done first.”

“What you can’t have is legalization on the promise of future enforcement,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” today. While Republicans opted for a step-by-step approach, they are also discussing “a larger, more comprehensive bill,” he said.

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