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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 TrumpKey takeaways from the Arizona Senate debate Major Hollywood talent firm considering rejecting Saudi investment money: report Mattis says he thought 'nothing at all' about Trump saying he may leave administration 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 ShelbyDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Florida politics play into disaster relief debate 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 LankfordCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel GOP loads up lame-duck agenda as House control teeters The Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh, Ford saga approaches bitter end 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 GrassleyDems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October American Bar Association dropping Kavanaugh review Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request 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 KlobucharIs there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Election Countdown: Minnesota Dems worry Ellison allegations could cost them key race | Dems struggle to mobilize Latino voters | Takeaways from Tennessee Senate debate | Poll puts Cruz up 9 in Texas Clusters of polio-like illness in the US not a cause for panic MORE (D-Minn.) said. “This change would only add to the partisan atmosphere.”

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHillicon Valley: Officials warn of Chinese influence efforts | Dow drops over 800 points | Tech stocks hit hard | Google appeals B EU fine | James Murdoch may be heading for Tesla | Most Americans worried about election security For everyone’s safety, border agents must use body-worn cameras Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh 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 ReidSenate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations Republicans come full circle with Supreme Court battle to the end 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 AlexanderOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senate blocks Dem measure on short-term health plans | Trump signs bill banning drug price 'gag clauses' | DOJ approves Aetna-CVS merger | Juul ramps up lobbying Trump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Senate defeats measure to overturn Trump expansion of non-ObamaCare plans 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 MerkleyEPA chief calls racist Facebook post he liked ‘absolutely offensive’ Dem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen 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 Collins'Suspicious letter' mailed to Maine home of Susan Collins The Kavanaugh debate was destructive tribalism on steroids: Here’s how we can stop it from happening again Conservative group launches ad campaign thanking Collins after Kavanaugh vote MORE (Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLive coverage: McSally clashes with Sinema in Arizona Senate debate Is there difference between good and bad online election targeting? Murkowski not worried about a Palin challenge 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 CornynTrump defends 0B US arms sale to Saudi Arabia Florida politics play into disaster relief debate O’Rourke faces pivotal point in Texas battle with Cruz 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.”