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Senate narrowly advances labor nominee

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted by the slimmest margin yesterday to end a filibuster against President Barack Obama's choice to head the Labor Department, as this week's agreement averting a poisonous partisan clash over nominations and the chamber's rules barely survived its toughest test so far.

By 60-40, senators rejected Republican objections and voted to halt delaying tactics aimed at killing Thomas Perez's nomination to become secretary of labor.

It takes 60 votes to end filibusters. With all 52 Democrats and both Democratic-leaning independents voting to halt the delays, Republicans supplied the six more minimum number of votes needed to keep Perez's selection alive.

In so doing, the GOP seemed to signal that, while it would adhere to the agreement, its ranks were bristling with unhappiness over the deal itself and against Perez in particular. In the deal announced Tuesday, top Republicans agreed to end delays against seven stalled Obama nominations and Democrats promised to drop efforts to change Senate rules to limit filibusters.

Republicans have criticized Perez, a top Justice Department official, for his handling of a whistle-blower case against the city of St. Paul, Minn., and for not heeding a congressional subpoena that sought his personal emails in that case.

"What I'm saying to my Republican colleagues is, I don't care what deal you cut," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a leader of the opposition to Perez. "How could you possibly agree to move forward on a nomination when the nominee refuses to comply with a congressional subpoena?"

Republicans voting to end the Perez filibuster were Sens. John McCain of Arizona, an architect of this week's deal, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

It was not clear when the Senate would vote on final confirmation of Perez's nomination, expected soon.

Minutes earlier, senators voted 82-17 to approve Fred Hochberg to a second four-year term to head the Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. exporters.

"We have now started a new era, I hope, a new normal here" of increased bipartisan cooperation, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

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