July 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Senate confirmed Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as Republicans and Democrats avoided a rule fight that risked gridlock in the chamber.
Senators voted 66-34, as 12 Republicans joined Democrats to confirm Cordray more than two years after President Barack Obama nominated him to lead the agency created by the 2010 bank-regulation law. Obama nominated two new candidates for the National Labor Relations Board to replace those who drew Republican objections.
“We have a new start for this body,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today. “I don’t know how I could be happier.”
A day earlier, the Nevada Democrat said that without an agreement, Democrats would unilaterally change the rules to keep the Republican minority from blocking the president’s executive appointments.
“I think that crisis has been averted,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. He said he expects the new NLRB nominees to be voted on before lawmakers’ August recess.
A rule change might have led to gridlock in the Senate and at regulatory agencies. It would have made it difficult in coming months for lawmakers to agree on raising the U.S. debt ceiling and enacting a new immigration law.
Obama praised leaders of both parties in a statement released by the White House. He urged lawmakers to “build on this spirit of cooperation” to make progress on priorities such as a new immigration law and addressing student loan rates.
While the nominees will receive votes, Reid said, Republicans aren’t giving up their right to block some future nominations, and Democrats “damn sure” aren’t promising not to change the rules if needed in the future.
“I had the votes” to do so this time, Reid said.
Senate Democrats and Republicans met privately for more than three hours last night to discuss the dispute. Reid and McConnell both said the meeting created a new collegiality among senators of both parties.
New York Senator Charles Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, told reporters the unusual bipartisan caucus meeting “was the turning point” in the dispute.
“Both leaders saw and everybody saw that we were so close it would be a shame to have an Armageddon,” Schumer said.
The Senate scheduled a procedural vote tomorrow on Fred Hochberg, renominated to lead the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The agreement also will allow votes on the nominations of Thomas Perez for labor secretary and Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.
Reid canceled plans for votes on three NLRB nominees. Two of the nominees, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, were withdrawn. A vote on NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce will be rescheduled with the two nominated today by Obama: Nancy Schiffer, a former top lawyer for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to Pearce.
Republicans objected to Block and Griffin’s nominations because Obama installed them as recess appointments without Senate confirmation.
The outlines of the plan were reached July 13, said Arizona Republican John McCain. “We hit a speed bump and we had to put it back together,” he said. “This thing collapsed on Saturday and got resurrected on Monday.”
Last night’s meeting in the Old Senate Chamber helped because it “created some goodwill” that enabled the deal to come together, McCain said.
It takes 60 votes to end the delaying tactic known as a filibuster, and Democrats control 54 of 100 Senate seats. A change in the rules for ending filibusters wouldn’t be a first. In 1975, senators reduced the number of votes needed to end the obstruction tactic from 67 to the current 60.
The Cordray confirmation ends a two-year standoff and provides certainty over the consumer financial bureau’s regulations and enforcement ability.
Obama first nominated Cordray to lead the consumer financial bureau in 2011. Republicans blocked his confirmation that December because they opposed the structure of the bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank financial-market overhaul.
“It took nearly two years but Rich Cordray will finally get the confirmation vote he deserves,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who helped create the bureau, said on a conference call with reporters today. “There is no doubt the consumer agency will survive beyond the crib.”
Obama installed Cordray in January 2012 during what he said was a Senate recess. That angered Republicans who said the chamber wasn’t officially in recess and Obama couldn’t appoint him without Senate confirmation. The president sent Cordray’s nomination to the Senate again on Jan. 24 of this year.
Senate Republicans said they opposed Cordray’s confirmation unless the administration changed the bureau’s operations to provide more oversight.
Obama appointed the NLRB’s Griffin and Block to the labor relations board on the same day as Cordray’s appointment.
The NLRB appointments were ruled invalid on Jan. 25 by a federal appeals court in Washington. The administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to consider the case in its 2013-2014 term.
“The best thing about this deal other than filling these agencies is it shows we can work together on issues that seemed, even a week or two ago, extremely contentious,” Schumer said.
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