With the Administration’s nomination of Craig Becker for a seat on the National Labor Relations Board set for a cloture vote in the Senate today, Nebraska’s Democratic Senator Ben Nelson has announced he will join with Republicans in opposing the Senate leadership’s motion to cut off debate on Becker.  Cloture would clear the way for a vote on the nomination itself.  A vote for cloture already was viewed as unlikely following the Democrats’ loss of a 60-member “supermajority” in the upper house with the surprise election in January of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts.  Brown took his seat last week.  With Nelson entering the ranks of the opposition, the likelihood of cloture grows dimmer still.

Speculation about Nelson’s motives swirls around his defection from Democratic ranks on the controversial nomination.  Some contend that he made the move to appease his conservative constituents, angered over his backing the Democrats’ healthcare overhaul, compounded by accusations of deal-making to garner his support.  Judging that Becker’s nomination was in trouble and that the Democrats could not muster enough votes to prevent a filibuster anyway, they say, he may feel it was an opportune moment to demonstrate his independence from party-line voting and re-establish his credentials with right-leaning Nebraska voters.  Whatever his reasons, however, it remains to be seen whether Nelson’s step will prompt other conservative Senate Democrats to buck their leadership.

However matters may go in the Senate, the President still might try to place Becker on the Board through a recess appointment, when the opportunity presents itself.  This may depend on how much pressure organized labor – and Becker’s champion, SEIU boss Andrew Stern, in particular – may exert on the Administration for this candidate.  There may be considerable political risks for the Democrats in trying this end-run.