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Senate Takes a Break After 48-Hour Debate

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky heads to the Senate floor to vote on Friday.
Susan Walsh
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky heads to the Senate floor to vote on Friday.

After pulling two consecutive all-nighters, a bleary-eyed Senate is taking a breather on Saturday.

The fractious 48-hour session that ended Friday was fallout from a decision that the chamber's ruling Democrats made last month to move stalled nominees.

This week's session was the first since Democrats detonated the " nuclear option" and eliminated the GOP minority's ability to filibuster most nominations.

So when Democrats sought consent to quickly confirm a large slate of routine and non-controversial nominations, angry Republicans immediately objected. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats had broken the rules.

"This was a pure power grab, plain and simple," McConnell said. "If the majority party can't be expected to follow the rules, then there aren't any rules."

Democrats were determined, though, to use the rules change and the few days the Senate has left in session this year to get some key stalled nominees confirmed. So they pushed through two names to the powerful District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court as well as a new head for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, all of whom had earlier been blocked by filibusters.

Republicans responded by demanding every hour of their allotted time before final votes could take place. Majority Leader Harry Reid said, in effect, so be it: The Senate would remain in session for however long it took to finish a string of 10 nominations.

"I understand that the Republicans are still upset that Democrats moved to alleviate the gridlock in Washington," Reid said. "Something the American people have been looking for for a couple — several — years now. I can't wave a magic wand and heal hurt feelings, but I can appeal to my colleagues to be reasonable and work with us."

Finishing the first list of nominees would have required the Senate to stay in session until late this evening. But after consulting with McConnell, Reid announced Friday that they would put off further votes until Monday evening.

Dan Coats, R-Ind., said it's not clear which side gave in.

"There was a lot of blinking going on, apparently," Coats said. "I don't know which side blinked — maybe both."

For Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the fight goes on.

"I think it's a weekend truce, much as the Germans and the Allies had during World War I, the trench warfare there," Wicker said. "We've gone to the mattresses."

The Republicans' dilatory tactics have left some Democrats fuming.

"It's so petty on the part of the Republicans," said Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

But Republicans say Democrats will pay a heavy price for curtailing the filibuster on nominations. John McCain, R-Ariz., says the toll is only beginning to show.

"There are many areas, a myriad of areas, where I've been working with Democrats that are, you know, just areas that we should be working on a bipartisan fashion," he said. "Not any more."

Despite such talk, Reid plans to bring up more nominations, including that of Janet Yellin to chair the Federal Reserve. The Senate next week must also vote on the two-year bipartisan budget deal the House approved this week.

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David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.