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Inside the Beltway

Washington politics and government with a New Mexico flavor

Udall calls Cordray vote ‘big breakthrough’ in Senate rules debate

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Senate Democrats this morning mustered the 60 votes needed to move to a confirmation vote on President Barack Obama’s U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee, a move that Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico called a “big breakthrough.”

After meeting privately for three hours on Senate rules reform late last night, the chamber voted 71-29 today overcome a filibuster threat of the long-stalled nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Rob Cordray to lead the consumer protection bureau. The vote averts — at least for now — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s threat to use a so-called nuclear option to change the Senate’s rules. Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., suggested a longer-term deal was in place earlier this morning, but Reid just said negotiators were still “dotting some I’s and crossing some T’s.” He also suggested more details could emerge later today.

Most Senate Democrats — including Udall — have encouraged Reid to use the nuclear option (moving to a final vote, or “gaining cloture” with just 51 instead of the traditional 60 votes) to bypass Republican obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.

“It’s a big breakthrough, a big breakthrough,” Udall said on the Senate floor this morning, just before the cloture vote.

Whitney Potter, a spokeswoman for Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the New Mexico Democrat was encouraged by the “rapport and respect” exhibited by both parties at last night’s closed-door meeting. She said Heinrich was prepared to support the nuclear option but was encouraged by the emerging deal, which is expected to preclude its use for now.

Udall has been agitating for Senate rules reform since he took office in 2009. He helped convince the Senate to make some minor rules changes earlier this year, but was unable to force the major filibuster reform he sought. On Tuesday, he praised Reid’s “patience” on the issue. Republicans contend changing the rules could come back to haunt the Democrats if they lose control of the chamber in a future election.

“Leader Reid has incredible patience when it comes to this whole issue of executive nominations,” Udall said. “At this point, he realized we were getting things clogged up, there was too much obstruction so he needed to force the issue. I’m very proud that he has because it pushed us in the right direction.”

Udall also gave credit to Sen. John McCain, who served on a “Gang of 14″ senators in that tried to negotiate judicial nominee rules reforms in the last Congress.

He called his fellow western senator, a “friend of the family and someone who cares about moving forward with the issues.”

Yesterday, Udall gave a floor speech and argued that exercising the nuclear option to end partisan gridlock would help the Senate regain some respect.

“Congress’s approval rating remains in the cellar,” Udall said. “Why? Because of a failure to get things done. It’s not breaking the rules to change the rules. They have been changed before before by a simple majority when the minority is abusing Senate procedure.”

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