GOP senators pitch rules change amid nominations backlog

A pair of GOP senators are pushing to change the Senate's rules to allow President Trump's nominees to more quickly clear the Senate amid growing frustration.

GOP Sens. James Lankford (Okla.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (Wis.) want to curb the amount of debate time required for most of the president's nominees after they clear an initial hurdle, which is currently capped at 30 hours.

Under Lankford's proposal, which he pitched during a closed-door conference meeting earlier this year, debate time would be limited to 8 hours for non-Cabinet nominations.

Johnson's measure would go even further limiting debate on the Senate floor to 2 hours.

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The changes would affect hundreds of Trump nominations currently in the Senate pipeline, in addition to the hundreds of nominees the administration still needs to make.

It would greatly limit the amount of time it takes to vote on a single nominee, where Democrats can currently use the Senate's rulebook to drag out a nomination for days.

"We can be deliberative and productive at the same time, but that will require fundamental changes in the rule, not eliminating the filibuster entirely," Lankford wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday.

The renewed effort comes as GOP senators are growing increasingly frustrated by Democratic tactics to slow down Trump's nominees amid a monthslong fight over repealing ObamaCare.

"With regard to nominations, the obstruction by the Democrats as part of this resistance movement has actually reached historic proportions," Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump announces restart to Taliban peace talks in surprise Afghanistan visit Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters during a weekly press conference.

Democrats don't always slow walk nominations and require the full debate time. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-Ky.) are currently negotiating a package of nominations that would be cleared before they leave for the August recess.

In addition to curbing debate time, Lankford is proposing lowering the threshold for breaking a Democratic filibuster on starting debate on legislation from 60 votes to a simple majority.

"We should change this rule to allow the majority party to open debate, while protecting the minority party by keeping the threshold to end debate at 60," he wrote.

Trump is urging senators to get rid of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, a move GOP leadership has repeatedly shot down.

Republicans already went "nuclear" this year to lower the 60-vote procedural hurdle for Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority. 

Leadership could face an uphill battle in convincing the GOP conference to agree to further change the rules.

If Republicans want to make additional changes to the rules — without going nuclear for a second time — they would need to win over the support of roughly 15 Democrats to get the two-thirds vote normally required.

If Republicans try to go it alone, they would face little room for error to force through a broader change. With 52 seats and Vice President Pence as a tie-breaker, they could only afford to lose two senators. 

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate confirms Trump pick labeled 'not qualified' by American Bar Association Republicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Collins opposes Trump's district court pick MORE (Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (Ariz.) both voiced opposition earlier this year to cutting back on debate time after Lankford pitched his idea in a closed-door caucus meeting. 

“I do not agree, but it is part of the slippery slope that we’re on,” McCain said at the time. “I don’t believe we ought to keep changing the rules just because we’re in the majority.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill House passes anti-robocall bill MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said on Tuesday that he was open to some rules changes. 

"I'm actually open to changing some of [that] ... with regard to the motion to proceed and post cloture time on some of these noms," he said.  "I think those actually make sense."

But asked about how leadership wins over reluctant GOP senators, he responded: "Good question." 

Lankford's push to limit nomination debate to 8 hours would be similar to a provision from a 2013 resolution on limiting debate for most nominations.

The 2013 measure passed the Senate by a vote of 78-16 but only governed the rules for the 113th Congress. Democrats at the time held the majority in the Senate.

That change included an exemption for “executive schedule I” nominations, which include department secretaries and other top positions such as the director of the Office of Management and Budget and federal judges.

Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDoctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race Harry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' MORE (Nev.), previously went nuclear to lower the procedural threshold for most nominations to a simple majority.

Johnson said Republicans could use the "Reid precedent" to make further changes to the rules without any Democratic support. 

"For my Republican colleagues who might resist such a change in the Senate rules, let me remind everyone that the nuclear option ... has already been deployed by former Senate majority leader Harry Reid," he wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. 

Of 575 "key positions" tracked by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, the Trump administration hasn't formally nominated someone for 355.

In total, there are 198 nominations currently working their way through the Senate, according to the tracker.