U.S. senators said on Monday that no agreement had yet been reached to avert a showdown over President Barack Obama's executive-branch nominees and threats by Democrats to strip Republicans of their filibuster power to block such nominations.
As the talks entered their fourth hour, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said a deal was unlikely on Monday, but Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said the chamber's two leaders, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell, were urged to keep trying to find common ground.
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Votes are set for Tuesday on seven of Obama's nominees.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester indicated progress, telling reporters: "The two sides aren't off by far."
All but three senators returned to Washington Monday night for the unusual joint-caucus meeting behind closed doors to hammer out a deal.
The nearly complete attendance of the Senate on a Monday night, after returning to the Capitol from their home states, indicates how seriously they take any threat to scale back the use of filibusters, a move that's been dubbed the "nuclear option."
Reid has demanded that Republicans confirm at least seven presidential appointees they've been blocking if they want to avoid the controversial rules change as early as this week.
Sens. Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida; Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat; and Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, were the only senators to miss the mandatory quorum call ahead of the 6 p.m. caucus in the Old Senate Chamber, The Hill
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told reporters that lawmakers heading to the joint caucus had agreed to the outlines of a compromise – a claim that a senior Democratic aide denied, The Hill reported.
“I think it’s very important that we give those proposals that are supported by a number of Republicans at least the consideration of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said.
“There’s no deal,” insisted the Democratic aide, who described McCain’s proposal as swapping in two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to replace Sharon Block and Richard Griffin Jr., whom Obama put on the board with recess appointments.
An appeals court has ruled that Obama exceeded his authority, and the board's actions since they took their seats are in legal limbo.
Republicans also have objected to Obama's pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created as part of Wall Street overhaul legislation that was opposed by the GOP. Obama nominated his pick, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, more than two years ago.
Republicans have often delayed or blocked presidential nominees by using their filibuster powers, which allow 41 senators to block actions in the 100-member chamber. Many senators cherish rules and traditions that give minority members far more power than anything enjoyed by minority-party members of the House.
Senate Democrats have a caucus of 54 members compared to the Republican caucus, which has 46 members.
A GOP agreement to confirm the seven nominees would defuse the tension and allow the Senate to return to normal business, Reid said earlier Monday.
The proposed change would not end filibusters for legislation or judicial nominees. But some senators say a limited rule change now could open the gate for much deeper changes in the years ahead.
McConnell, of Kentucky, said Reid's threatened action would "change the core of the Senate." He said it would fundamentally deny senators their right to question potential officials.
Reid said Republicans have abused that right in order to keep Obama from assembling his team. Reid said Republicans flooded Gina McCarthy, nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, with 1,100 written questions, and then complained about her responses.
"My efforts are directed at saving the Senate from becoming obsolete," Reid said Monday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Obama "supports Harry Reid and is appreciative of the support Harry Reid has given to his nominees."
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Reid warned Republicans that if they do not permit seven of Obama's executive-branch nominees to be confirmed, he would move to strip Republicans of their power to stop such nominations with filibusters.
McCain said if there is no deal in the already divided Senate, a new round of partisanship would "grind the chamber to a halt."
Reid said he would go to the meeting, but would not compromise on his demand that all seven nominees — some of whom have waited for a Senate vote for more than a year — be confirmed.
Senate votes are to begin on Tuesday on: Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Richard Griffin, Sharon Block and Mark Pearce to be members of the National Labor Relations Board; Fred Hochberg to be president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank; Thomas Perez to be labor secretary; and Gina McCarthy to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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