Senate hatches last-minute deal

The Senate reached a last-minute procedural agreement late Thursday that spared them from horribly timed votes on Friday and Saturday, and should let everyone fly home Friday for Christmas.

Before the deal, senators were facing a bitter end to a bitter year.

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Senate Republicans were forcing Democrats to take as much time as possible working through nominations. They had even planned to skip town after a vote on a core defense bill, and leave Democrats to suffer through a long series of cloture votes and nomination votes starting at 4 a.m. Friday.

That raised the prospect that several nomination votes would have been run through the Senate with only a handful of Republican senators around.

But late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deal that allows for a more normal voting schedule. After two late votes Friday, Reid said the 4 a.m. votes were called off, and voting would start mid-morning.

"There will be a series of six roll call votes tomorrow [Friday], beginning at about 10 a.m.," Reid said.

Few lawmakers were around to hear him, but most Republicans were expected to call off their plans to leave town and instead stick around for the votes. Then, in a tiny sign of bipartisanship — in a year marred by endless partisan divisions —both Republicans and Democrats are expected to leave town together sometime Friday.

Before the deal, several Senate Republicans made it clear that they would leave town and stick Democrats with the task of pushing through nominations that many Republicans opposed anyway.

"Christmas is a family time of year," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "I'm going to be with my family, so I'm leaving tomorrow night."

Republicans have refused to yield back debate time on nominations as a way to protest Reid's use of the nuclear option in November, which stripped the minority party of the power to filibuster nominees. Traditionally, 60 votes are needed to change the Senate's rules, but the rules change means nominations can proceed to a vote with a simple-majority vote.

But the GOP's tactic only hardened the position of Democrats. Earlier in the day Thursday, one Democratic senator said Reid was thinking of scheduling a slew of procedural votes on Saturday to inflict maximum political damage on Republicans for skipping town.

"Already Reid, [Sen. Dick] Durbin [D-Ill.] and others have said if they do that, then after we vote tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. on Yellen, we'll be having a lot of votes," said the lawmaker. "We're going to have votes on motion to adjourn, on live quorum calls and other procedural votes. We’re just going to rack 'em up.

"If they want to miss all those votes and have them 55 to 5, that doesn't look very good for them," the lawmaker added.

But as it has so many times before, the latest threat of long periods of work in the early morning and weekend fizzled the way forecasts of snow in Washington turn into rain. Both sides threatened the prior week that their fighting over process would mean a Saturday slog, but that also dissipated with a quick process deal.

Aside from the political fight, the most important effect of the agreement is the delayed vote on Janet Yellen to be chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. A final vote on Yellen is now planned for Jan. 6 after the Senate voted 59-34 on Friday to end debate on her nomination.

Yellen is the most important nominee up this week, and despite the short delay, it will likely ease Wall Street minds to know that she will be confirmed early in 2014.

Three other nominees will be handled in a quick series of Friday votes.

The Senate on Friday confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas to be the next deputy secretary of Homeland Security in a 54-41 vote.

Republicans opposed the nomination because Mayorkas is the subject of an ongoing investigation at the DHS, but the GOP was powerless to stop his confirmation.

The Senate then confirmed John Koskinen to be the next commissioner of the troubled Internal Revenue Service. Some Republican objected, saying the vote should have been delayed until a Senate report into the IRS's targeting of Tea Party groups is released.

The last confirmation vote of the day will be on the nomination of Brian Davis to be a district judge in Florida.

In some last-minute housekeeping on Thursday, the Senate passed four bills by unanimous consent:

— H.R. 2319, the Native American Veterans' Memorial Amendments Act,

— H.R. 623, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Land Transfer Act,

— H.R. 767, amending the Energy Policy Act to modify the Pilot Project offices of the Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project, and

— S. 1614, the Accuracy for Adoptees Act.

— Alexander Bolton contributed

— This story was first posted at midnight and last updated at 12:20 p.m. on Friday.