The Senate is set to spend Wednesday night debating executive nominees as Republicans protest Democratic attempts to force Obama administration nominations through in the wake of last month's change in the filibuster rules.
An aide to Sen. Harry Reid says the majority leader is prepared to keep the Senate in session around the clock from now until Saturday to approve 10 executive nominations. Republicans have prepared an all-night talkathon that will force a rare 1 a.m. vote on Nina Pillard's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court.
After that, another cloture vote would be scheduled for approximately 5 a.m. Security officials protecting Senate leaders have been informed of the change and had their shifts adjusted to prepare for the overnight schedule.
The Republicans' move is in retaliation to Reid's deployment of the so-called "nuclear" option. Last month, Reid and Senate Democrats changed the filibuster rules so that executive and judicial nominations (except for Supreme Court appointments) only require a simple majority of votes to be confirmed. Previously, 60 votes were required.
"Anyone who bought the line that the nuclear option would make the Senate more efficient, well, that's just not the case," a Senate Republican leadership aide said.
Earlier this week, Reid set up a formal debating process on a package of 10 nominees, including Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama's pick to head the Department of Homeland Security. Those nominees have differing requirements for how many hours of debate each much be subjected to before a vote; some require just four, but Johnson, as a Cabinet nominee, requires 30 hours of debate.
Typically, both sides give up some of that time – or both sides agree to dispense with the required time and move more quickly than the rules say they can. But Republicans are vowing to use all of theirs to protest the rule change. If that happens, Democrats say, the Senate could be in continuous overnight session until Saturday evening.
Under the rules, while the nominations are being considered, all other business would grind to a halt. The chamber wouldn't move forward on the budget deal or a major defense authorization bill until after the nomination votes are finished. Senate committees would be allowed to meet for only 2 hours a day.