On the surface, it might look like the U.S. Senate did Tuesday what it has become famous for: absolutely nothing.
Republicans agreed not to block the confirmation of a handful of executive branch appointees, and Democrats agreed not to drastically change the Senate rules.
But this deal was not nothing. By agreeing to accommodate the sometimes conflicting principles of minority rights and majority rule, a bipartisan majority of the Senate has decided that it’s better to function than to fight, and that is a relief.
The sign that the deal would hold was the vote on a cloture motion, which ended debate on the nomination of Richard Cordray to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It passed, 71-29.
That nomination had been blocked by 43 Republican senators, who said they would not allow Cordray to receive a confirmation vote unless structural changes were made to the new agency, which was created in response to the financial misdealings that brought down the economy in 2008.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins had been one of the Republicans who promised to filibuster the nomination, but she was one of the 17 Republican senators who voted for cloture Tuesday, and one of 12 who voted to confirm him later in the day.
“Mr. Cordray is clearly a qualified individual with a good reputation,” Collins said in a statement. “I have repeatedly made clear to the White House that my concern was never with the nominee, but rather with the lack of accountability for how money would be spent by this agency.”
The Democrats did not make any of the structural changes to the agency that Collins and the others had demanded, but Collins said she would vote for the nomination and then support a separate bill that would create an independent inspector general to oversee the bureau.
That is the right way to address issues like this. Rather than hold up the agency’s work by obstructing the confirmation process, the debate can focus on what the agency does and whether it should be changed.
Several more votes are expected to occur without filibusters, which would give the National Labor Relations Board enough members to decide disputes.
Three nominations for vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are also expected to come forward this summer, but their future is less certain.
Republicans have filibustered one candidate for an opening on the court earlier this year and allowed another to be confirmed. Collins has joined other Republicans who say they think the court is big enough already and doesn’t need any more judges.
We hope the events of this week will change the Republican position on these confirmations. They should each get an up-or-down vote based on their qualifications, while opponents try to change the size of the court by passing a law.
The Senate struck a difficult balance this week: It preserved tradition while forging a path forward. We hope this was a glimpse of how the senators plan to do the people’s business in the future.