Republicans signal they will abide by ‘nuclear option’ pact

Senate Republicans on Tuesday signaled they intend to stick to the terms of the “nuclear option” deal and allow votes on President Obama’s nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

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Democrats agreed last week to forgo changing the Senate’s filibuster rules on the condition that Republicans allow a speedy vote on the revamped slate of labor board picks.

Some in the Senate GOP have grumbled about the filibuster deal, but senators appeared inclined to abide by it at a hearing on Tuesday with two of the labor board nominees.

“If you are reported, I would think there would be an up or down vote on your nominations — at least I think there should be,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), told the nominees, Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, on Tuesday.

Testifying before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Hirozaw and Schiffer pledged to serve in the posts as neutral arbiters, and not as the pro-union activists that businesses fear.

“I pledge to dedicate myself to the fair and even-handed enforcement of the commands of the [National Labor Relations] Act, consistent with the act’s purpose of maintaining industrial peace,” said Hirozawa, who is currently the top lawyer for NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce.
 
Schiffer spent decades at the AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers, during which time she spoke out in favor of expanding the ability to workers to quickly form and join unions, an issue on which Republicans challenged her.

“I would just love to have some sense that there is the ability to be unbiased,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who cited a series of her statements that seemed to show prejudice in favor of unions.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) added that he had “serious concerns about your ability to be objective” because of her union background.

Schiffer vowed she would leave her advocacy days behind if confirmed to serve at the NLRB.

“I take what I do very seriously and I understand the importance of doing the job in the appropriate way,” she said.

Schiffer added, “I have no preconceived agenda. I will approach the cases that come before me with an open mind.”

If the Senate approves Hirozawa, Schiffer and three other NLRB candidates, all five seats on the board would be filled with confirmed nominees for the first time since 2003.

“A fully confirmed, fully functional board will be a huge step forward for workers, employers, and our country,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate committee. "Indeed, I hope that this agreement brings a new beginning for the board, so that we can ratchet down the political rhetoric that seems to surround this agency and instead let the dedicated public servants who work there do their jobs.”

Hirozawa concurred that a fully confirmed set of board members “makes a huge difference.”

The committee is scheduled to vote on the nominations on Wednesday, and Alexander predicted a vote before the full Senate next week.

Harkin said that Democrats would request for the full body to vote for all the nominees to the NLRB as a block, but said it was not likely.

“We’re going to ask for that, but I don’t think we’ll get permission to do it,” Harkin said after the hearing on Tuesday. “Republicans won’t want that. They’ll want to vote on each one separately.”

If nominees are not confirmed by the end of August, the NLRB will be unable to form a quorum and carry out most of its functions.

President Obama nominated Hirozawa and Schiffer to the board last week, after the Senate reached a deal to confirm a number of his other nominations and avoid a change in the body’s rules that has been dubbed the “nuclear option.”

In exchange for allowing votes on new leaders of the Environmental Protection Agency, Labor Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Obama agreed to withdraw the re-nominations of two current members of the board, Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, Jr.

Two federal appeals courts have nullified those members’ appointments to the NLRB, since they were made during a 2012 period while the Senate was still technically in session. The Supreme Court will take up a case on the matter in its next term.

Republicans on Tuesday said that Obama’s concessions on the NLRB as part of the deal should settle the matter.

“I think it’s fair to say that any president in the future would not use his or her recess appointment power at a time when the Senate was not in recess and that the Senate, not the president, would decide when it was in recess,” Alexander said.

“Hopefully as a result of this discussion, that issue is settled.”