97 senators arrive for rare joint caucus on 'nuclear option'

Nearly every senator returned to Washington Monday evening in time to attend a closed-door joint caucus to discuss filibuster rules.

Ninety-seven senators participated in the mandatory quorum call Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidGOP senator: Reid's 'ramblings' are 'bitter, vulgar, incoherent' Reid: We're not breaking the budget deal Overnight Defense: VA chief 'deeply' regrets Disney remark; Senate fight brews over Gitmo MORE (D-Nev.) requested ahead of the 6 p.m. caucus in the Old Senate Chamber.

The GOP cloak room said Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioSusana Martinez fires back at Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report Rubio defends NM gov after Trump attacks MORE (Fla.) was the only missing Republican, while Sens. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenDems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz Senate panel approves funding boost for TSA Dems: Warren ready to get off sidelines MORE (N.H.) and Bob MenendezRobert MenendezDems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees Lobbying World This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump MORE (N.J.) were the absent Democrats.

Reid has threatened to use the “nuclear option” — changing the Senate rules to allow presidential nominations to proceed with a simple-majority vote instead of a 60-vote super-majority — in order to thwart Republican obstruction on seven of President Obama’s cabinet nominees. 

Sen. John McCainJohn McCainPelosi, Dems rush to defense of Wasserman Schultz Reid: We're not breaking the budget deal Senate votes to block USDA catfish inspections MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters heading into the joint caucus that lawmakers had agreed to the outlines of a compromise on nominees although a senior Democratic aide disputed the claim.

“We’ll go over those outlines,” said McCain. “I think it’s very important that we give those proposals that our supported by a number of Republicans at least the consideration of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

McCain said some Democrats are familiar with the details of the proposed compromise.

“They know it and many of them are supportive of it but we’ll see,” he said.

A senior Democratic aide disagreed strongly.

“There’s no deal,” said the aide, who explained that McCain proposed swapping in two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board to replace Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, Jr., whom President Obama put on the board with recess-appointments. The D.C. Circuit Court later ruled the move unconstitutional.

McCain has shared the plan with senior White House officials.

“They’d like to see it resolved as well but they know it’s largely a Senate issue,” he said.

In the fight over Obama's nominees, Democrats have argued that the president should be able to select his own team and that executive branch nominees shouldn’t be held to a 60-vote threshold. Reid has emphasized that the rules change would not cover judicial nominees. 

Republicans have argued that they are simply exercising the rights in the Constitution for the Senate to “advise and consent” on executive nominees and that changing the rules would harm minority rights in the Senate.

They've also threatened to retaliate if they regain the Senate majority.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellBill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes Senate votes to block financial adviser rule MORE (R-Ky.) said last week that he was disappointed the joint caucus was scheduled for Monday instead of Tuesday because not all lawmakers return from spending the weekends in their homes states by Monday evening.

Seven nominees are at issue: Richard Cordray as director of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection; Griffin, Block and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board; Fred Hochberg to be president of the Export-Import Bank; Thomas PerezThomas E. PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE to be secretary of Labor; and Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyHow Congress got to yes on toxic chemical reform Overnight Energy: Labor rift opens over green mega-donor GOP: EPA is violating court hold on climate rule MORE to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cordray and the NLRB nominees are the most controversial.

Procedural votes on those nominations are expected to start Tuesday, but senators are hoping to reach a deal to allow up-or-down votes to avoid the “nuclear option.”

This story was updated at 6:39 p.m.

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