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 TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It merely shortens what is currently an unreasonably long process,” said Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyWinners and losers in the border security deal GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration 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 LankfordGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees GOP senator calls Omar's apology 'entirely appropriate' New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks 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 GrassleySenate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech Senate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general 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 KlobucharO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation NBC, CNN to host first two Democratic presidential primary debates Barbara Lee endorses Kamala Harris's 2020 bid MORE (D-Minn.) said. “This change would only add to the partisan atmosphere.”

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 Dems urge regulators to reject T-Mobile, Sprint merger Dems wary of killing off filibuster 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 ReidKlobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment Dems wary of killing off filibuster Reid praises Warren, stops short of endorsement 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 AlexanderCongress must move forward on measure dealing with fentanyl GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees Key doctors group faces political risks on guns 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 MerkleyThe border deal: What made it in, what got left out Lawmakers introduce bill to fund government, prevent shutdown Dems wary of killing off filibuster 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 CollinsGOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration DOJ warns White House that national emergency will likely be blocked: report On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration MORE (Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona 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 braces for Trump's emergency declaration On The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency 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.”