Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (left) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed earlier this year to try to smooth Senate operations through expanded amendment opportunities for Republicans and fewer GOP filibusters of Democratic bills, but it hasnt worked out exactly as they hoped.
"There was no discussion that we wouldn't block nominations. In fact, that's what nominations are for," said Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who negotiated the nominations part of the gentlemen's agreement with Schumer.
He noted that Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recently blocked a Justice Department nomination because they were upset they had not yet gotten a response to their request for information on the issue of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
"That's perfectly legitimate," he said.
On the larger agreement for Republicans to generally allow bills to come to the floor without forcing Reid to jump through time-consuming procedural hoops on routine motions to proceed: "We've moved in that direction," Alexander said, but he acknowledged, "It hasn't worked perfectly."
"The main reason there's so few amendments is because there's so little to vote on, there's so little to amend," Alexander said. "Sen. Reid is bringing nothing up. ... It's hard to amend nothing. ... The Democrats, who are completely in charge of setting the agenda, don't have an agenda."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Senators in both parties wish the chamber was more productive.
"I think there's probably frustration on all sides," he said.
Cornyn, the GOP's campaign chief, said Democrats "feel vulnerable because they've got 23 up" for re-election in 2012.
However, one aspect of that gentlemen's agreement — a bill eliminating about 400 positions from Senate confirmation requirements — is likely to come to the floor in the next few weeks.