WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate removed the final hurdle Wednesday to approving the second of President Barack Obama's stalled nominees in two days, overwhelmingly backing the chief of the Export-Import Bank.
Senators voted 82-18 to clear the way for giving Fred Hochberg a second four-year term at the bank, which provides financing for U.S. exporters. Final approval was expected later Wednesday.
Even so, fresh strains appeared, especially among younger GOP conservatives, over this week's bipartisan Senate accord that set up the votes on Hochberg and six other Obama nominees.
In exchange, majority Democrats dropped a threat, for now, to change the Senate's rules to weaken minority Republicans' powers.
"It seems to me the implication is we're supposed to simply routinely rubber-stamp everyone," said Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. "There can't be any objections ever, whatsoever. Well, that's not what the Constitution calls for."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged lawmakers to block a vote on Obama's pick of Thomas Perez to lead the Labor Department. 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 Justice's refusal to hand over Perez's personal emails to Congress.
"What I'm saying to my Republican colleagues is, I don't care what deal you cut," said Rubio. "How could you possibly agree to move forward on a nomination when the nominee refuses to comply with a congressional subpoena?"
Roll call votes on Perez and Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, were possible this week.
In exchange for the GOP concessions on the nominations, Democrats agreed to drop their effort to change the chamber's rules and prevent opponents from forcing top agency nominees to win 60 votes from the 100-member Senate. That would have diminished the filibuster rule that minority parties, Republicans as well as Democrats, have cherished as a tool that prevents them from becoming virtually irrelevant.
Obama also submitted two new nominees for a pair of labor posts after Republicans adamantly opposed his initial picks.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted a Twitter message Tuesday night saying, "Today, re: the so-called nuclear option, Senate Republicans preserved the right to surrender in the future." The nuclear option is the nickname used to describe efforts by the Senate's majority party to unilaterally change the chamber's rules.
The tensions on display among Republicans made clear that were no guarantees that the conflict won't flare anew, perhaps over judicial nominations.
Hochberg's selection to head the Export-Impact Bank has stirred less passion. Conservatives oppose the bank, saying its federally backed loans risk taxpayers' dollars and interfere with markets. But it has broad backing from the business community and Democrats.
"We have now started a new era, I hope, a new normal here in the Senate" of increased bipartisan cooperation, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Obama thanked senators for coming together as he appeared at the White House with the newly sworn-in director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director. Richard Cordray was confirmed just the night before.
"I also want to thank the Senate for agreeing to give my other nominees who've waited far too long the votes that they deserve," Obama said. "These are all highly qualified men and women who are just ready to go to work for the American people."
Progress came after an exceptional private meeting in the Capitol's old Senate chamber Monday night that was attended by almost every senator. For the previous several days, senators had met and made phone calls in an effort to head off a clash, with several lawmakers crediting Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for helping bring the sides together.
As part of the resulting agreement, Obama withdrew his nominations of two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block. Obama installed Griffin and Clark onto the board in 2011, bypassing the Senate but triggering a legal challenge in which an appeals court has said the two appointments were invalid. Republicans were insistent that those selections be replaced.
In their places, Obama nominated Nancy Schiffer, a former top lawyer for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce. Reid said he was planning for the Senate to confirm both next week.
The seventh Obama appointment involved in the bipartisan deal is Pearce.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.