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Senate leaders reach deal on Obama judicial nominees

By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders have averted, for now, a showdown over President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, reaching a tentative agreement that would allow the chamber to pick up the pace on confirmations.

The truce comes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada took the unusual move of trying to force a vote Wednesday on 17 nominees that had bipartisan backing but faced opposition from Republicans trying to stall the president’s picks for the federal courts.

Under the agreement, the Senate will instead work to confirm 14 judicial nominees by May 7 — not as many as Democrats sought, but a schedule that would require about three confirmation votes a week while the Senate is in session — more than has been the norm.

“It was something that, like all matters we do here legislatively, (was) an effort to work out a compromise,” Reid said.

Democrats were eager to show Republicans as obstructing Obama’s efforts even in areas where there is broad agreement. Overcoming a GOP-led filibuster of Obama’s judicial picks could have dragged for weeks under Senate procedures.

Republicans have threatened to hold up Obama’s nominees to protest the administration’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the new consumer protection bureau over their objections.

GOP leaders, though, were reluctant to be seen as blocking Obama’s judicial picks, especially at a time when voters are more concerned about jobs and the economy.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, wanted to avert a showdown and move on to consideration of a House-passed jobs bill that has wide bipartisan support and could give the GOP a political victory.

“We have reached an understanding here,” McConnell said.

If the deal holds, confirmation votes would be held on 12 district court nominees and two circuit court nominees by early May.

The Senate would vote on three district court nominees next week and four by the end of the month. Another three district court nominees and one circuit court nominee would be up for votes in April; by May 7, votes would be held on one circuit and two district court nominees.

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