SENATE GOP BACKS DOWN AFTER RECESS APPOINTMENT THREAT…. There wasn’t much doubt what President Obama had in mind for the congressional break that begins today. In light of the unprecedented number of holds Republicans have placed on key, high-level nominees, mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with qualifications, the White House seemed poised to use recess appointments for several pending officials.

As of last night, the Senate scurried to make this unnecessary.

Before leaving for the Presidents’ Day break, the Senate on Thursday night confirmed — by unanimous consent — more than two dozen of President Obama’s nominees to federal positions.

Mr. Obama and Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, had warned this week that the president might use the weeklong holiday break to make recess appointments, a threat underscoring his frustration with months of delays in confirming some key nominees.

Mike Allen reported that the president “won” the showdown with Senate Republicans, and last night’s breakthrough was the result of a “tense exchange” between Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Apparently, the president explained that he could no longer tolerate the “unprecedented” holds. When McConnell said Dems did the same thing to Bush that Republicans are doing now, “Obama disagreed, saying that when Bush made his first recess appointments, a handful of nominees had been waiting for more than a month. Obama had more than 60 waiting.”

After the Senate approved the 27 high-level nominees, the White House issued a statement describing the process as “a good first step,” but added, “[T]here are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.”

A list of the 27 newly-approved officials is online, but it’s worth noting that Craig Becker, the blocked National Labor Relations Board nominee, is still not getting the post for which he is qualified, and the three Pentagon nominees blocked by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) will continue to wait for Senate confirmation.

So, last night represented meaningful progress for the White House — and a victory for the notion of a functioning American government — but there’s obviously a great deal more work that needs to be done. That said, the leap forward will apparently take the option of recess appointments off the table — for now.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.