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There were already signs of trouble, however. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said that he was concerned about any agreement that could curtail his ability to use procedural holds to get answers to questions from the Obama administration, including a recent inquiry he made regarding the use of domestic drones. As leverage, he’s holding up the nomination of James Comey to be FBI Director.
“I’ve got a hold right now on the FBI appointee. Not because I have anything against him, but because I want to know are we flying drones across America, and are there any rules, are they obeying the Bill of Rights,” Paul said. “I can only do that because it takes 60 votes to get the FBI director in if someone threatens to filibuster. So, the filibuster’s a wonderful tool for trying to get information. The president usually wins.”
Alexander said that in his view, much of the frustration exhibited in the old Senate chamber was more about legislation than nominations, even though Reid’s plan applies narrowly to the executive branch and not judicial picks.
“My conclusion is that it was a very useful meeting. I’m very glad Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell called it. We had a frank exchange of views and I hope they work out an agreement,” Alexander said.
A senior Democratic aide said that staff would continue to meet, but no breakthroughs were expected until morning, if they ever come about. Without a deal, the Senate will move forward on a series of up to seven test votes on executive branch nominees. If Republicans filibuster one or more of the nominees, Reid could call for a ruling that such blockades are not permitted. If the presiding officer rules that they are allowed, a vote might then take place on overturning the ruling of the chair. However, Reid does not necessarily have to make the procedural move on Tuesday. Another Senate Democratic aide indicated that it could come later this week or next.
The nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is slated to come up first on Tuesday, and sources said Cordray’s chances of drawing the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster had improved. If Cordray is not filibustered, the Senate could spend up to eight hours debating his nomination before moving to a final confirmation vote. That debate time also could give senators more time to work out an agreement on the NLRB nominees, who would face their filibuster test votes after the Cordray confirmation.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is trying to broker a broad agreement, said that talks are ongoing. “Still working, still working away, still discussion options,” McCain said. “It was a good meeting, good exchange of views, but still no conclusions,” adding that it’s the eleventh hour. McCain said that the leaders would “continue to negotiate and continue to talk and then, I am afraid the majority leader may schedule a vote unless we reach some agreement.”
Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.