Senate easily approves James to lead Air Force

The Senate voted 79-6 early Friday morning to confirm Deborah James as the next secretary of the Air Force.

James, now with Science Applications International Corp., was an assistant secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. Her confirmation followed a drawn-out process that might now become routine in the post-"nuclear option" Senate, even for nominees like James who enjoy bipartisan support.

The Senate voted 58-39 Thursday night to end debate on her nomination. That set up several hours of debate, time that Republicans said must be used up live, without adjourning.

Republicans have been protesting their inability to force a 60-vote majority vote in order to advance nominations, which effectively ended the filibuster of all nominees, save those for the Supreme Court.

But while Republicans talked all Wednesday night and Thursday morning to protest the "nuclear option," no Republican spoke on the Senate floor in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Instead, a few Republicans showed up just before midnight, and the Senate sat open from about midnight until Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) spoke at 6:30 a.m., just before the 7 a.m. vote.

After voting on James, the Senate voted 51-34 to end debate on Heather Higginbottom to be deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. That vote sets up more debate and will let the Senate hold a final confirmation vote on her later this morning.

Technically, the vote on Higginbottom set up eight hours of debate, but Democrats were expected to yield back most of their four hours.