WASHINGTON — In its last workday of the year, the Democratic-controlled Senate overcame GOP objections Friday to confirm two high-profile Obama nominees to the
After heated debate, the Senate narrowly approved Alejandro Mayorkas, President Obama's controversial pick for the No. 2 job at Homeland Security, in a 54-41 vote. No Republicans voted yes. Mayorkas will report to the new Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, who was confirmed Tuesday.
Shortly after, Obama's choice to head the Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen, was confirmed on a vote of 59 to 36. As an attorney, Koskinen has served as acting chief executive of Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant, and was former president of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
The Senate also confirmed Judge Brian J. Davis of Florida as a U.S. district judge for the state's middle region. He was nominated by Obama about 700 days ago, the White House noted, making his wait the longest of any judicial nominee in recent years.
And the body advanced by a vote of 59 to 34 the nomination of former UC Berkeley economist Yellen, selected by Obama to be the first woman to head the Federal Reserve Board.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) initially vowed to hold the Senate in session through the weekend and into next week in order to clear a slate of nominations, including Yellen's, that had been delayed by Republicans as a protest over Democrats' move last month to change Senate filibuster rules.
The change eliminated Republicans' ability to block most of the president's executive and judicial branch choices, but they were still able to drag out the process using time-consuming procedural rules.
The last-minute Thursday night accord ended, for now, the Senate saga over nominations, though several of Obama's other picks remained unconfirmed and partisan divisions were apparent in the pre-vote debate over Mayorkas.
Mayorkas, who has been head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services since 2009, is being investigated by the department's inspector general over allegations that he helped politically connected businesses secure visas for foreign investors. He denies doing anything wrong.
Republicans tried to stop the vote until the internal inquiry is complete. But Senate Democrats went ahead, saying that investigators had uncovered no wrongdoing after 18 months of examining the program.
Supporters said that Mayorkas, a former U.S. attorney for Southern California, had improved morale at Citizenship and Immigration Services and pulled off the equivalent of a bureaucratic miracle by quickly implementing a program last year that allows many immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to apply for work permits and remain in the country.
Speaking in favor of Mayorkas on the Senate floor, Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said the nominee's implementation of the program was an "extraordinary task." The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was designed and put in place within 60 days, an unusually quick pace for federal action. Since August 2012, the agency has received more than 600,000 applications and approved more than 450,000 young immigrants for work permits. Under Mayorkas, the agency "rose to the challenge," Durbin said.
But senior Republicans said they objected to Mayorkas because of concerns brought by whistle-blowers that he may have intervened in visa decisions in favor of politically connected businesses.
"We are voting to install a nominee that could be seen as unfit to serve in the No. 2 position at DHS, an agency tasked with protecting our country from terrorists," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said on the Senate floor.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said that too many posts at the top of Homeland Security were vacant and that the department had the lowest morale in the federal workforce and needed leadership.
Johnson, the former general counsel for the Department of Defense, starts his job as Homeland Security chief with little experience in immigration or border security. Mayorkas' background running the agency responsible for issuing green cards and considering citizenship applications will complement Johnson's national security credentials, said Marshall Fitz, an immigration expert at the Center for American Progress, a policy group in Washington with close ties to the White House.
The White House, Fitz said, has an "extraordinary amount of confidence" in Mayorkas. The creation of the deferred action program came five months before the November 2012 election and played a major role in energizing Latinos to turn out at the polls in favor of Obama, he said.
Late Thursday, the Senate gave final approval, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 84-15, to the National Defense Authorization Act, which this year includes a provision to bolster prosecution of sexual assault in the military.
Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed to this report.
months before the November 2012 election and played a major role in energizing Latinos to turn out at the polls in favor of Obama, he said.
Late Thursday, the Senate gave final approval, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 84-15, to the