Senate GOP seeks to change rules for Trump picks

Republicans are mulling changing the Senate's rules to speed up consideration of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE's nominees.

GOP senators want to cut down the amount of debate time needed to confirm hundreds of the president’s picks, arguing Democrats are using the Senate’s rulebook to stonewall and slow-walk nominees and the GOP agenda.

Republicans have been privately discussing the potential changes for months, but support for the move appears to be growing amid mounting frustration about the pace of nomination votes.

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“It merely shortens what is currently an unreasonably long process,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default GOP balks at White House push for standalone vote on debt ceiling Lawmakers concede they might have to pass a dreaded 'CR' MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

The panel held its first hearing of the year before the holidays to discuss the measure from GOP Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordOvernight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE (R-Okla.).

The freshman senator wants to limit the amount of debate time on nominations after they’ve already cleared a procedural hurdle and shown they have enough support to pass.

Under Lankford’s resolution, post-cloture debate for non-Cabinet nominees would shrink from 30 hours down to eight hours. For district court nominees — whose decisions can be overturned by federal circuit courts or the Supreme Court — debate would be limited to two hours.

Lankford argued that with nominees able to eat up days of Senate floor time, the chamber is increasingly having to choose between confirming a president’s nominees or passing legislation.

“We have learned as a body that we are either going to do nominees, or we are going to do legislation, but we can’t do both. ... The Senate cannot walk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.

The proposal would be similar to a provision from a 2013 resolution on limiting debate for most nominations, which passed the Senate by a 78-16 vote. Democrats controlled the chamber at the time.

That resolution, unlike Lankford’s which would apply to future sessions of the Senate, only governed the rules for the 113th Congress.

The committee canceled a markup over Lankford’s proposal due to the Senate’s schedule. A spokesperson for Shelby said it had not yet been rescheduled, but a spokesman for Lankford said they were hoping for a markup in January.

Republican senators and conservative outside groups have grown increasingly frustrated with what they view as Democratic stonewalling, as noncontroversial nominees have been forced to wait through days of floor debate.

As of Thursday, the Trump administration has had 300 nominations confirmed by the Senate, with an additional 177 currently working their way through the upper chamber's pipeline, according to a tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.

That lags behind former President Obama who had 418 nominations confirmed by the Senate at the same time, while former President George W. Bush had 493 and former President Clinton had 471.

Trump’s nominations are also taking longer to clear the Senate. His picks take, on average, 72 days, to confirm, while Obama’s nominees waited 51 days, Bush’s 36 and Clinton’s for 38.

But the administration was also initially slower to fill vacancies, and still needs to nominate 249 of 624 “key” positions tracked by the Post and the Partnership for Public Service.

The Senate also returned roughly 100 nominations back to the White House after wrapping up its work for the year without confirming them. Senators agreed to hold over roughly 150 other nominations.

Democrats appeared lukewarm to Lankford’s proposal, noting that they live in a post-”nuclear” Senate and that Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyAdvocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings MORE (R-Iowa) has signaled he will nix the “blue slip” for circuit court nominees if he thinks Democrats are abusing the protection.

Before 2013, senators could force any nomination to garner bipartisan support by making it overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle

The “blue slip” is another Senate tradition determined by the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman that allows home-state senators to delay or nix a judicial nominee by not returning a blue sheet of paper.

“I just feel this is not the right moment to make these changes as the rule,” Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows - Immigration raids dominate Klobuchar: Trump 'wants this chaos' caused by expected ICE raids 2020 Democrats push tax hike on wealthy investors MORE (D-Minn.) said. “This change would only add to the partisan atmosphere.”

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-N.M.), who has proposed his own rules changes, argued Lankford’s proposal “benefits only the majority.”

Democrats argue the Senate should take as much time as possible to vet Trump's nominees, some of whom they believe are unqualified. Multiple senators pointed to Louisiana GOP Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE's questioning of a district court nominee, who later withdrew his nomination.

Debate over the Senate’s rules has become increasingly partisan in the wake of the decision to go "nuclear."

Senate Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSteyer's impeachment solution is dead wrong The Hill's Morning Report - House Democrats clash over next steps at border Democrats look to demonize GOP leader MORE (D-Nev.), nixed the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominations and lower-court nominations in 2013, arguing Republicans were stonewalling Obama’s court picks.

Republicans, in turn, got rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle for Supreme Court picks after Democrats rejected Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.

Lankford’s proposal would not impact the 30 hours of debate for Cabinet nominees or limit debate time for Supreme Court or circuit court nominees.

Republicans also face a choice: change the rules on their own or try to win support from Democrats.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care Trump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid MORE (R-Tenn.) offered support for Lankford’s proposal, noting it would force the Senate to go back to changing the rules through regular order.

“It would reinstate the process of changing our rules according to our rules,” he said. “Each party has demonstrated that we know how to do it the wrong way.”

Udall noted he would only support Lankford’s proposal if it is paired with “additional reforms” as part of “good faith” talks involving both parties.

Udall and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border Sunday shows - Amash, immigration dominate Merkley on delaying endorsement: 'We have a different set of cards this time' MORE (D-Ore.) have also been discussing a new rules change package they could share with their colleagues after the 2018 midterm elections.

It’s unclear if Republicans would have the votes to go nuclear and change the rules on their own.

Republicans will be losing a seat in January narrowing their grip on the Senate to a 51-49 majority.

GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans make U-turn on health care Children urge Congress to renew funds for diabetes research Justice Democrats issues 3 new endorsements for progressive candidates MORE (Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain argues with Andrew Yang about free marriage counseling proposal Veterans groups hand out USS John McCain shirts on National Mall during Trump speech Trump is still on track to win reelection MORE (Ariz.) previously told The Hill that they wouldn’t support further rules changes. Collins, who has been in the middle of a health care fight, declined to comment before the holiday recess on Lankford’s proposal.

But if they voted "no," Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to unilaterally change the rules.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP struggles to find backup plan for avoiding debt default Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Mnuchin warns US could hit debt limit in early September | Acosta out as Labor chief | Trump pitches trade deal in Wisconsin | FTC reportedly settles with Facebook for B fine MORE (R-Texas) said earlier this year that Republicans should try to go through regular order, but if that fails, “then there are procedures that are available to change the Senate rules post-cloture.”