Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has brokered a deal with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to avoid the so-called "nuclear option" and smooth the way for the Senate to approve seven of President Barack Obama's non-judicial branch nominees, a senior Senate Democratic aide said Tuesday.
As part of the deal, Democrats reserve the right to use the "nuclear option" if Republicans block the nominees, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The nuclear option would change Senate rules so that filibusters could be broken by a simple majority vote rather than the 60 votes now required.
The aide said McCain huddled with Reid after a caucus meeting last night and the two hashed out the deal later that evening by telephone.
"McCain decided he was sick of gridlock and brokered a deal to keep this place functioning," the aide said.
According to the terms of the deal, Republicans agree to approve two new nominees for the National Labor Relations Board, sight unseen, without preconditions and without hearings, by Aug. 1. McCain also agreed to deliver enough votes to approve nominees Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Thomas Perez to be secretary of labor, and Richard Cordray as director of the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The aide said the deal does not include any of the structural changes to the consumer bureau that Republicans had demanded as a pre-condition for approving Cordray.
Without revealing details of the deal, Reid effusively praised McCain on the Senate floor prior to a test vote on Cordray."John McCain is the reason we're at the point we are," Reid said. "This is all directed toward John McCain from me. No one was able to break through but for him, and he does it at his own peril."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who did not participate in the deal, had come into Reid's office last night and asked Reid to take the nuclear option off the table, but Reid refused, the aide said.The White House declined a "full comment" on the agreement, pending an announcement of a deal.
But press secretary Jay Carney said Obama shares Reid's position -- and frustration over the blocking of nominees.
"We would be glad to see a resolution that results in the speedy confirmation of the president's qualified nominees to these positions that have been at issue," Carney said.
Carney rejected a suggestion that the White House was involved in the negotiations, saying it "provided information and answered questions."
He lauded McCain, saying he "deserves significant credit for his efforts in trying to find a resolution here."-Lesley Clark and William Douglas contributed to this report.