WASHINGTON — The Senate headed for a bitter conclusion to an often-acrimonious year, with Democrats vowing to remain in session until they confirmed Janet Yellen as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve along with other pending nominees, despite delaying tactics by Republicans who are upset over new filibuster restrictions.
Rather than adjourn Thursday, as many members had hoped, the Senate was due to remain in session overnight and probably hold a rare weekend vote after Republicans spurned a request from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to defer pending nominations into the new year without requiring President Obama to resubmit them, as would normally be necessary.
Because Democrats last month changed rules to prevent filibusters for most judicial nominees, Republicans lack the ability to block confirmations.
But they are using other Senate rules to delay the process long enough to cut into Democrats' Christmas recess.
As a result, Democrats will be forced to hold late-night, early-morning and weekend votes or face the prospect of starting the process from scratch for nominees who remain unconfirmed by the end of the session.
Most Republicans are already departing Washington to start their vacations, with several staying behind so at least one member can be present in the chamber to object if Democrats try to expedite the process by waiving rules that require up to 30 hours of debate before a final confirmation vote.
Democrats will be left largely alone in the chamber in the coming days to vote on Yellen, a new IRS commissioner and various key deputies for departments, including Alejandro Mayorkas, the former federal prosecutor from Los Angeles nominated to be the No. 2 official at the Department of Homeland Security.
"I'm leaving tomorrow night," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). "I don't care what the schedule is. I'm going to be with my family."
Republicans said their actions were justified because Democrats changed the Senate rule on filibusters with a simple majority vote.
"What they did was reprehensible, so this is a necessary approach," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said.
After a late-night vote Thursday to pass a key defense bill, the Senate was due to vote about 4 a.m. Friday to confirm Mayorkas. Under the most optimistic time frame, Yellen's confirmation could occur no sooner than Saturday afternoon. Confirming six additional nominees that Reid has lined up would take at least another day.
Democrats said they were undeterred by what they called a Republican stunt that only reinforced the idea that the minority party was engaging in unprecedented obstruction.
"We did not come this far to quit, period," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip.
"If it means working through the weekend and next week, so be it," Reid said. "Is it any wonder Democrats changed the rules last month?"
Some held out hope for a final agreement to allow senators to join House members in what was supposed to be their first extended Christmas break in years. But others were preparing for a long weekend.
"I've got a really good couch in my office," said Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.