WASHINGTON -- A showdown looming, Republicans and Democrats struggled without success last night in marathon, closed-door talks to resolve the fate of several of President Barack Obama's stalled appointees, a dispute that threatened what little bipartisanship remains in the Senate.
Emerging from the session in the ornate Old Senate Chamber, where the public and media were barred, lawmakers of both parties reported progress toward a compromise and said party leaders would continue talks into the night.
"We've had a very good conversation," said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Yet he gave no indication that he planned to seek a delay in a series of roll calls planned for morning on confirmation of seven presidential appointees the GOP has blocked so far from getting yes-or-no votes.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said: "A clear bipartisan majority in the meeting believed the leaders ought to find a solution. And discussions will continue." Reid insisted in advance that Republicans permit yes-or-no confirmation votes on all seven of the nominees at issue. If they won't, he declared in a morning speech before the Center for American Progress, Democrats will change the Senate's rules to strip them of their ability to delay.
The group of nominees includes Obama's picks to head the Labor Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Export-Import Bank, whom Republicans have recently said they would allow to be confirmed.
Most of the controversy has surrounded three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, two of whom are in office as a result of a recess appointment that bypassed the Senate, and a head for the newly created Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
In one sign of progress, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said fellow Republicans were now willing to stand aside for confirmation of Richard Cordray to the consumer finance board, although he said Obama should find replacements for the two NLRB nominees.
Nearly all 100 senators attended the off-the-record session in the chamber where the Senate debated slavery and other momentous issues of the 19th century. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) quipped that the last time a senator from his state spoke in the room, "the Union dissolved."