When I first read that the Republicans in the Senate were planning to skip town and just keep a few of their members around while they forced the Democrats to work an extremely ugly schedule in order to confirm the latest round of President Obama's nominees, I was wondering how long it would take them to cave.
Turns out it didn't take nearly as long as I expected it to. The GOP raised the white flag and gave in late Thursday night, and they're all going to get to head home by Friday for their Christmas break.
The Senate reached a last-minute procedural agreement late Thursday that spared them from horribly-timed votes on Friday and Saturday, and should let everyone fly home Friday for Christmas.
Before the deal, senators were facing a bitter end to a bitter year.
Senate Republicans were forcing Democrats to take as much time as possible working through nominations. They had even planned to skip town after a vote on a key defense bill, and leave Democrats to suffer through a long series of cloture votes and nomination votes starting at 4 a.m. Friday.
That raised the prospect that several nomination votes would have been run through the Senate with only a handful of Republican senators around.
But late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deal that allows for a more normal voting schedule. After two late votes Friday, Reid said the 4 a.m. votes were called off, and voting would start mid-morning.
"There will be a series of six roll call votes tomorrow [Friday], beginning at about 10 a.m.," Reid said.
Few lawmakers were around to hear him, but most Republicans were expected to call off their plans to leave town, and instead stick around for the votes. Then, in a tiny sign of bipartisanship — in a year marred by endless partisan divisions —both Republicans and Democrats are expected to leave town together sometime Friday.
Before the deal, several Senate Republicans made it clear that they would leave town, and stick Democrats with the task of pushing through nominations that many Republicans opposed anyway.
"Christmas is a family time of year," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "I'm going to be with my family so I'm leaving tomorrow night."
Republicans have refused to yield back debate time on nominations as a way to protest Reid's use of the nuclear option in November, which stripped the minority party of the power to filibuster nominees through a simple-majority vote. Traditionally, 60 votes are needed to change the Senate's rules.
But the GOP's tactic only hardened the position of Democrats even more. Earlier in the day Thursday, one Democratic senator said Reid was thinking of scheduling a slew of procedural votes on Saturday to inflict maximum political damage on Republicans for skipping town. [...]
But as it has so many times before, the latest threat of long periods of work in the early morning and weekend fizzled the way forecasts of snow in Washington turn into rain. Both sides threatened the prior week that their fighting over process would mean a Saturday slog, but that also dissipated with a quick process deal.
Aside from the political fight, the most important effect of the agreement is the delayed vote on Janet Yellen to be the next chair of the Federal Reserve Board. A final vote on her confirmation is now planned for January 6, instead of this Saturday evening.
She is the most important nominee up this week, and despite the short delay, it will likely ease Wall Street minds to know that she will be confirmed in the presence of both Republicans and Democrats.
Three other nominees will be handled in a quick series of Friday votes. The Senate starts at 9 a.m., and votes start at 10:15 a.m.