Updated 5:05 p.m. | Both the nomination for the next Labor secretary and a bipartisan agreement to avoid the “nuclear option” remain on track, barely.
The minimum of 60 senators voted to cut off debate on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Thomas E. Perez to be Labor secretary, after it became clear some Republicans had qualms about including Perez in the deal struck Tuesday to get seven presidential nominees confirmed. The vote shows how tenuous the agreement to move executive branch nominations might be.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave a floor speech earlier Wednesday afternoon encouraging fellow GOP senators to take an act that would blow up the bipartisan deal to avert the “nuclear option” on executive branch nominations.
“If just one more Republican Senator had voted against cutting off debate, we could have stopped nomination of Obama labor nominee #surrender,” Rubio tweeted after the vote closed.
Rubio pushed for Republicans to oppose voting to limit debate on Perez. During an impassioned but likely ill-fated speech, Rubio said that Perez has not produced a slew of documents requested by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and thus should not be confirmed.
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said he agreed with Rubio’s reasoning.
“How can you confirm somebody like that for a Cabinet-level [post]; that’s crazy,” Risch said.
Asked if that feeling is conference-wide, Risch said he was speaking only for himself, but he added that “I can tell you that there are other people in the conference who feel the same way. You saw the vote.”
Another Republican senator conceded after Rubio’s speech that his concerns about Perez were shared by others, but there seemed to be a sense that he should be allowed to take his seat to get the nuclear debate in the rearview mirror.
“I still hope that there’s time to convince as many of my colleagues as possible. I don’t hold great hopes that I will convince a lot of my Democratic colleagues, but I hope that I can convince the majority of my Republican colleagues to refuse to give the 60 votes to move forward and cut off debate on this nominee until Chairman Issa and the Oversight Committee gets answers to their questions,” Rubio said before the vote.
Senate Democratic aides said it was clear that rounding up enough votes to prevent cloture on Perez would nullify Tuesday’s deal to avoid filibusters of executive branch nominees and effectively put the Senate right back where it sat Monday evening before the rare bipartisan senators-only meeting in the old Senate chamber.
“We have before the Senate today a nominee to head the Labor Department of the United States of America that refuses to comply with a Congress subpoena on his email records regarding his official business conduct,” Rubio said. “Refuses to comply, won’t even answer, ignores it.”
Republicans party to the nomination confirmation agreement have committed to at least voting for the cloture motions filed by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., if not the nominees themselves (when the vote threshold is lower).
That includes Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who explained his plans hours before voting.
“I expect Mr. Perez to be confirmed. I’m going to vote against him, but I’ll vote for cloture so that we have a vote,” Alexander said. “The president’s entitled to have a vote on his Cabinet members.”
Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.