WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to the latest of President Barack Obama's seven stalled nominees as a bipartisan pact over his picks to run federal agencies seemed to be holding, though Republican grumbling was mounting.
Senators voted 82-18 on Wednesday to clear the way for confirmation of Fred Hochberg to serve a second four-year term as head of the Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. exporters. A vote on final approval was expected later in the day.
"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.
But a day after the agreement allowing votes on Obama's nominees was largely hailed by both parties, conservatives and other Republicans were bristling over one of the selections — Thomas Perez, Obama's pick to lead the Labor Department.
Republicans say that Perez, a top Justice Department official, mishandled a whistle-blower case against the city of St. Paul, Minn., and that he and Justice have ignored a House subpoena for his personal emails related to that case.
"What I'm saying to my Republican colleagues is, I don't care what deal you cut," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "How could you possibly agree to move forward on a nomination when the nominee refuses to comply with a congressional subpoena?"
"Why would you want somebody in the Cabinet thumbing their noses at the elected representatives of the people of this country," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, one of the chamber's senior Republicans.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Perez and the Justice Department had responded to all "reasonable requests" from Congress for information and said, "He's a professional, he listens and tries to make the right judgment."
Despite the GOP criticism, it was not clear that the bipartisan agreement was in peril.
In that deal, Republicans agreed to help Democrats get the 60 votes needed to end filibusters — prolonged procedural delays — against the seven nominees. It was possible that GOP opponents of Perez could vote to end the delays against Perez but then oppose his nomination, which would not violate the deal.
One of the bipartisan deal's chief architects, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would vote to end delays against Perez's nomination but added, "I think it's in some trouble, but I don't know how much."
In exchange, majority Democrats have dropped a threat, for now, to change Senate rules to weaken minority Republicans' powers. They had been threatening to muscle through a rules change eliminating the need to get 60 votes to free a nomination for final approval.