Democrats had been threatening to muscle through a rules change preventing opponents from forcing top agency nominees to win 60 votes from the 100-member Senate.
That would have diminished the chamber's filibuster rule that minority parties, Republicans as well as Democrats, have long cherished as a tool that prevents them from becoming virtually irrelevant. Changing the Senate's rules by majority vote — instead of the two-thirds margin usually required when the plan is controversial — is unusual and considered likely to invite such harsh retaliation that it is called the nuclear option.
"I think it's a step in the right direction that the majority has chosen not to exercise the nuclear option," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "We feel good about that. I think they feel good about it. So I think that crisis has been averted."
The standoff was resolved following an exceptional closed-door meeting in the Capitol's old Senate chamber Monday night, attended by almost every senator. For the previous several days, senators had met and made phone calls in an effort to head off a clash, with several lawmakers crediting Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for helping bring the sides together.
As part of the resulting agreement, Obama withdrew his nominations of two nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Clark. Obama installed Griffin and Clark onto the board in 2011, bypassing the Senate but triggering a legal challenge in which an appeals court has said the two appointments were invalid. Republicans were insistent that those selections be replaced.
In their places, Obama nominated Nancy Schiffer, a former top lawyer for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, counsel to NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce. Reid said he was planning for the Senate to confirm both next week.
The seventh Obama appointment involved in the bipartisan deal is Pearce, whose pick is relatively uncontroversial. The NLRB appointments, if confirmed as expected, would prevent the virtual shutdown of the agency because of a lack of confirmed board members to rule on collective bargaining disputes between unions and companies.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed to this report.