By ALAN FRAMAssociated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate is ready to approve President Barack Obama's choice to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, a day after a nail-biting marathon vote frayed but kept intact the chamber's recent bipartisan spirit toward nominations.
Senators were considered certain to approve Samantha Power for the U.N. post, elevating the president's former foreign policy adviser who has also spent years as a human rights advocate. She will replace Susan Rice, who has become the president's national security adviser.
On Wednesday, the Senate took five hours for a roll call that ended Republican tactics aimed at blocking Obama's pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
For most of that time, the chamber was mostly empty as lawmakers waited for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to fly back from her home state, where aides said she was suffering from an infection, to cast the decisive 60th vote.
Earlier, Democrats rounded up their 59th vote by persuading Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to switch her vote and back their efforts to end the GOP delays. That chapter in the drama, which featured senators of both parties crowding around her on the Senate floor, took about an hour to play out.
Once Heitkamp voted, the Senate approved B. Todd Jones to the ATF post by a nearly party-line, 53-42 tally.
By the time Power is approved, the Senate will have completed a month in which it resuscitated a stack of stalled Obama nominations and approved chiefs of several agencies. Those included leaders for the Environmental Protection Agency, FBI, Labor Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Much of that progress flowed from a bipartisan pact that averted a "nuclear option" showdown in which Democrats had threatened to alter Senate rules to diminish Republican clout. Democrats dropped that threat in exchange for Republicans allowing votes on seven nominations.
That cooperation has extended to additional nominations as well, including Jones and Powers. With Congress about to start a summer recess, many leaders are hoping that spirit will survive into the fall, when lawmakers face nasty fights over the budget, immigration and other issues.
Looking to those issues when lawmakers return, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told reporters, "The last thing we want to do is leave with some radioactive blowup."
The Irish-born Power won a Pulitzer Prize for a book on how the U.S. responded to atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s and for years has backed intervention - including military force - to halt human rights atrocities. She has distanced herself from her 2002 call for a "mammoth protection force" to prevent Middle East violence, calling it a "remarkably incoherent answer."
Two weeks ago, Venezuela said it was calling off efforts to restore normal relations with the U.S. after Power said at her Senate confirmation hearing that the South American country was guilty of a "crackdown on civil society."
In another instance of her occasional outspokenness, she called the U.N.'s inaction to end the large-scale killing in Syria's civil war "a disgrace that history will judge harshly."
Jones has been acting ATF chief since 2011 and was nominated by Obama weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six aides at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. Part of the agency's role is to enforce federal gun laws.
Many congressional Republicans long have been critical of the ATF, especially for its fumbled "Fast and Furious" operation aimed at gun-smuggling across the Southwest border. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others also have complained that Jones' nomination should not move forward because of whistle-blower complaints against him involving his work as U.S. attorney for Minnesota.
Murkowski said she switched her vote after learning that Jones no longer was under investigation, as opponents had said he was, for his performance as U.S. attorney. She later voted against his confirmation.
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