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Senate Leaders Declare Weekend Truce in Nominee Dispute

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, pauses while speaking following a Bloomberg Television interview at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2013. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Senate will resume consideration of presidential nominees next week after leaders agreed to temporarily halt all-night sessions used by Republicans to protest losing the option to block candidates.

Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a deal to consider Jeh Johnson’s nomination as secretary of Homeland Security next week, avoiding a third straight all-night session with a vote late today.

“I’m satisfied that we’ve made progress,” Reid said yesterday on the Senate floor as he announced the deal with McConnell.

Under the agreement, the Senate will vote Dec. 16 on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Johnson, wrapping up the votes that began last week and stretched into two consecutive all-night sessions. Reid said the Senate then will consider a second group of nominees, including Janet Yellen, tapped by Obama to lead the Federal Reserve.

Yellen will be considered “toward the end of next week,” Reid said yesterday in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

Democrats, who control the Senate with a 55-45 majority, can now confirm most judges and all executive-branch officials with simple-majority votes, rather than the 60 votes that often were needed before Nov. 21. Senate Republicans fought back this week by using their only remaining leverage: delay.

Simple Majority

Over Republican objections, the Senate voted Nov. 21 to let a simple majority confirm all nominees except Supreme Court justices, ending a practice by which a single senator could require 60 votes to install presidential picks.

Reid had long threatened such a move and finally followed through at the insistence of junior senators such as Jeff Merkley of Oregon. The rules change is permanent, Reid said.

“It’s so important,” Reid said on Bloomberg Television. “No matter who is president should have the ability to have his team in place.”

In the past week, the Senate confirmed two judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals using the new rules -- Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett.

Among other nominees confirmed this week are Chai Rachel Feldblum as a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Elizabeth Wolford to be a district court judge in western New York and Landya McCafferty to be a U.S. district judge in New Hampshire.

Watt Confirmed

Representative Mel Watt won confirmation to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Dec. 10. He will oversee the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Reid hasn’t said what other nominations he wants to advance before the end of this year. The House completed its votes for the year yesterday and members headed back to their districts, leaving the Senate to process the remaining legislation and nominations.

Besides Yellen, one other possibility is John Koskinen, nominated in August to be commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

The Senate Finance Committee approved Koskinen’s nomination yesterday. Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel is slated to leave by Dec. 31.

The panel also approved the nomination of Sarah Bloom Raskin to be a deputy Treasury secretary.

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