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Senate leaders drop standoff on judges

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Republican and Democratic leaders ended their standoff Wednesday over President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations and agreed to debate a small-business bill that both parties favor in this presidential and congressional election year.

On the brink of 17 grueling votes in a row to fill vacant judgeships, Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell announced a schedule that would speed up the confirmation process. Under the deal, the Senate would vote on a total of 14 noncontroversial nominees by May 7, a dozen of them to U.S. District Court seats and a pair to the U.S. Circuit Court.

The deal came after both sides sought to score political points and settle a Republican grudge against Obama for making appointments during congressional recess, without votes.

Reid and the Democrats complained that McConnell and the Republicans were slow-walking the list of nominees, even those arousing no objections. McConnell insisted the pace was reasonable and demanded that the Senate return to the small business bill at a time when voters of all stripes say the economy is the No. 1 concern. In response, Reid scheduled back-to-back votes on 17 nominees.

Points made, both leaders announced a deal at midday before the standoff turned into a real fight that might have pleased their parties’ bases, but alienated a broader electorate hostile to partisanship on Capitol Hill.

Under the deal, the Senate would consider two or three nominees a week before May 7. The nominees would fill District Court seats in West Virginia, Utah, California, New York, Virginia, Nevada, Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois. The others would fill vacancies on the 4th Circuit, which covers the Mid-Atlantic region and the 9th Circuit, which covers the West.

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