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July 15, 2013

Senators continue talks to avoid "nuclear option"

Senators emerged from a 3 1/2-hour closed door session Monday night without a deal or compromise to prevent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from trying to change the chamber's rules to effectively end Republican filibusters that he says are keeping President Barack Obama from getting his nominees for various non-judicial posts confirmed. 

But Reid, D-Nev., signaled that a door remains open to stop him from pursuing the so-called "nuclear option - a move that would do away with the required 67-vote threshold to change Senate rules. If the successful, Reid would then attempt to change the rules in the 100-member Senate so that filibusters could be broken by a simple majority vote rather than the 60 votes currently required. Democrats control 54 votes in the chamber, plus they have the steady support of two independents. The chamber has 46 Republicans. In the event of a tie, Vice President Joe Biden - the president of the Senate - would cast the deciding vote.

"The night is late, we've had no breaks, it's been going steady," Reid told reporters at the conclusion of the meeting attended by 98 senators in the ornate old Senate chamber. "We've had a very good conversation, the conversation's going to continue tonight. Votes are scheduled 10 'o clock in the morning."

Without a a last-minute deal, Senate Democrats and Republicans are poised for a  nuclear option showdown as Reid has called for a test vote Tuesday morning on the nomination of Richard Cordray to be director of the ConsumerFinancial Protection Bureau.

He's called for similar votes on the nominations of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Thomas Perez to be secretary of labor, and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Bureau. Obama named two of those nominees as recess appointments, which a federal court ruled unconstituional.

"I think the NLRB is the real contention," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters after the meeting. "The NLRB confirmations are a real difficult issue for Republicans because of the two who were illegally appointed."

Reid, speaking Monday morning at the liberal Center for American Progress, said there's one way Republicans could keep him from going nuclear: don't block the nominees.

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