SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A lot of U.S. senators maybe sleeping in today after pulling two consecutive all-nighters. At issue is last month's decision by the Senate's ruling democrats to trigger the so-called nuclear option, that change Senate ruled so that all nominations except those to the Supreme Court now need a simple majority, not a 60 vote super majority to move forward.
Angry Republicans fought back this week, but they only succeeded in slowing down a few key nominations. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: When the Senate reconvened this week after a two-week Thanksgiving break, it was the first session since Democrats detonated the nuclear option and essentially 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, Republicans immediately objected.
Mitch McConnell, the senate's GOP leader, said Democrats had broken the rules.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: This was a pure power grab, plain and simple. If the majority party can't be expected to follow the rules, then there aren't any rules.
WELNA: 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. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader said, in effect, so be it. The Senate would remain in session for however long it took to finish a string of ten nominations.
SENATOR HARRY REID: I understand that Republicans are still upset the Democrats moved to alleviate the gridlock in Washington, something the American people have been looking for for a couple - several years now. And 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.
WELNA: Finishing the first list of nominees would have required the Senate to stay in session until late this evening, but after consulting with the GOP leader, Reid announced yesterday that they would put off further votes until Monday evening. Indiana Republican, Dan Coats, said it's not clear which side gave in.
SENATOR DAN COATS: There was a lot of blinking going on apparently. I don't know which side blinked. Maybe both.
WELNA: For Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, the fight goes on.
SENATOR ROGER WICKER: I think it's a weekend truce, much as the Germans and the Allies had during World War I in the trench warfare there.
WELNA: Is this like trench warfare here?
WICKER: It is, of course. We've gone to the mattresses.
WELNA: The Republicans dilatory tactics have left some Democrats fuming, including West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller.
SENATOR JAY ROCKEFELLER: It's so petty on the part of the Republican.
WELNA: But Republicans say there's a heavy price Democrats will pay for curtailing the filibuster on nominations. Arizona's John McCain says the toll is only beginning to show.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: 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. And not anymore.
WELNA: Despite such talk, majority leader Reid plans to bring up more nominations, including that of Janet Yellin, to chair the Fed. The Senate next week must also vote on the two-year bipartisan budget deal the House approved this week. If Republicans don't relent, there could be more all-nighters. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)