Democrats Close Out Majority With Wins on Nominations
“This will be the last vote of this Congress,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced shortly before 9:30 p.m.
The Senate’s end-of-session mechanics kicked into high gear Tuesday, with the chamber confirming a slew of President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive nominations and clearing a one-year retroactive extension of lapsed tax breaks that will resolve the issue for just weeks.
Reid, who will become the minority leader in the 114th Congress, told reporters he thinks the Democrats could have seen more accomplished in the lame-duck session.
“There’s a lot more we could and should have done,” Reid said, adding, “We did OK this time, but we’ve had better.”
Asked what he was hopeful for next year Reid said “that we have a little civility in the Senate.”
The last vote sequence started just after one more floor exchange between Reid and retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Coburn continued to be “Dr. No” to the very end, stymieing the Senate’s bid to reauthorize terrorism risk insurance, objecting to passing the last big-ticket item of his Senate career. There was increasing chatter in the halls that there would be no deal, forcing the program to lapse despite the push from Reid and others to clear the House’s version of the legislation.
“My friend from Oklahoma seeks to amend the House-passed TRIA bill,” the Nevada Democrat said. “If the Senate were to amend TRIA, we would have to send it back to the House of Representatives. They’re gone. They’re not going to change anything in the bill. We’ve been told that many times. Amending the TRIA bill would be just another way to kill the TRIA bill.”
Also speaking on the Senate floor, Coburn criticized TRIA as corporate welfare.
“According to industry calculations, TRIA has made the industry $40 billion in the last 12 years. The American taxpayer takes all the risk except for 35 percent, and the insurance industry makes the money,” Coburn said, adding that his objections to the bill have been well-documented.
Tuesday’s flurry of activity followed several tense days in the Senate, which included unexpected sparring Friday night on the Senate floor involving Reid and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah.
The objection gave Reid an unexpected Christmas present of a Saturday session to lay the groundwork for speedier confirmation of several Obama nominees that Senate Republicans would have rather avoided, including Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general and Antony Blinken as deputy secretary of State. All told, the Senate would end up confirming 69 Obama nominees from Friday until the final act, according to a Reid aide.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the most vocal opponent of Blinken’s confirmation, said the way the curtains were closing on the 113th Congress was not as Republicans would have liked.
“They jammed so much of the appointments and nominations, it certainly left a bad taste in some of our mouths. But you know … Republicans can’t over-react. We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball and that’s get things done,” McCain said. “For example I intend to get Ash Carter’s nomination through [the Armed Services Committee] very quickly to show that we want to move forward with stuff.”
The nominees confirmed included a number of judges for lifetime appointments to the federal bench, including three long-vacant seats in Texas, and Loretta Copeland Biggs, the first African-American woman to be a federal district judge in North Carolina history.
Cruz apologized to his GOP colleagues behind closed doors Tuesday for the fact that Friday’s procedural move led to an unexpected Saturday session of roll call votes. Senators including Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire already were airborne before it became clear the Senate would work over the weekend.
“Yes the senator acknowledged that a number of his colleagues had to unexpectedly change their weekend plans, and he apologized to them for inconveniencing their personal schedules. That was not his intention; as he explained today in Politico, his intention was to secure a vote on President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty, and to use every procedural means to do so,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in an email. “He believed — and still believes — that forcing that constitutional vote was critically important, but he apologized for causing any personal hardship.”
Corker, the likely incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the lame duck got in the way of a trip abroad ahead of his plans to write a new Authorization for the Use of Force against Islamic State militants.
“I was supposed to go to Iraq and Turkey on Friday night, but something happened,” Corker said. So what did he make of Cruz’s apology? Corker paused, then said, “It was fine.”
In that opinion piece for Politico, Cruz conceded the vote he was able to get Saturday on a point of order on the constitutionality of the funding for the Homeland Security Department in the “cromnibus” spending bill was not an ideal procedural vehicle. The White House announced President Barack Obama signed the spending package while the Senate was in the middle of its end-of-session work.
Correction, 10:30 a.m.
A previous version of this story misspelled the new surgeon general’s name. It is Dr. Vivek Murthy.