US Sen. John McCain speaks during a news conference in this June photo. McCain says a deal has been reached to resolve the Senate's nominations backlog. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)
WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican senators have brokered a deal to end a stalemate over Obama administration nominees.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters Tuesday morning that a deal is in place that will avoid a threat by Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to change the chamber’s rules to allow a long list of nominations to move forward via a simple majority (51 votes).
“Yeah, we have a deal,” McCain told a handful of reporters after emerging from a closed-door briefing on Syria. He said it is up to Reid to announce the deal’s specifics.
The Senate Armed Services Committee handles all Defense Department nominations. Its chairman, Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin, told reporters he favors changing the chamber’s rules so all nominations receive an “up-or-down vote” on the floor.
The pact could clear the way for several mid- and senior-level Pentagon nominees to finally get a vote on the Senate floor, such as Alan Estevez and Air Force Maj. Gen. Susan Helms, according to the Senate’s executive calendar.
The former is tapped to become the principal deputy to Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall, and the latter has been nominated to become the No. 2 official at US Space Command.
Another is Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., an Army reservist nominated to receive his first general’s star and become deputy commander of the troop program unit at the Atlanta-based 3rd Medical Command.
An Iraq war veteran, Heck has been an emergency room doctor. He was most recently a medical adviser to the Army Reserve chief’s office.
A pact could also avoid holding up a floor vote on the White House’s nomination of Gen. Martin Dempsey for a second term as Joint Chiefs chairman. He will appear Thursday morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing.
The administration also soon will nominate a new Air Force secretary, who will require Senate confirmation.
One major DoD nomination that was held up by a filibuster threat was that of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. GOP members used a filibuster threat this year to wrangle data from the White House about the deadly Benghazi, Libya attack.