Senate leaders averted a showdown over judicial nominations Wednesday, surprising onlookers with an unexpected deal that kept the Senate from expending hours on votes doomed to fail.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had planned to force procedural votes on 17 judicial nominees that he and fellow Dems said were being blocked needlessly by Republicans, all in a campaign year effort to highlight GOP obstruction. Republicans have blocked some of the 17, though four were only recently confirmed by the Judiciary Committee.
The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, accused his Dem counterparts of "a political stunt" and said the chamber should be focused on the crises of the moment: sky-high gas prices and jobs.
The 11th-hour deal, described by leadership aides, will result in 12 federal district court and two appellate court nominees receiving votes by May. McConnell has already said most of the 17 will easily be confirmed by the chamber.
"What the Majority should do is work with us to move these lifetime appointments in an orderly manner, like we did 62 times last year, and like we've already done seven times this year," McConnell said Wednesday morning, before the deal was in place. "While we're working on a bill to help get people back to work, we can make progress on other judicial nominations."
Reid agreed and scheduled a House-passed small business jobs bill for debate beginning Thursday.
So, for now, leaders have dodged a fight, but traditionally, senators have butted heads in a presidential election year, with tradition holding that all nominees are frozen in place by late summer to wait for November's outcome.