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 TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey 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 Shelby20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Conservatives urge Trump to stick with Moore for Fed Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field 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 LankfordHow Republicans are battling judicial obstructionism today GOP gets used to saying 'no' to Trump GOP to go 'nuclear' with rules change for Trump nominations 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 GrassleyCongress can retire the retirement crisis On The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report 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 KlobucharHarris wins town hall war among CNN viewers Cory Booker releases 10 years of tax returns Dems accuse White House of caving to Trump's 'ego' on Russian meddling MORE (D-Minn.) said. “This change would only add to the partisan atmosphere.”

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallNew Mexico senators request probe into militia group detaining migrants Latino group urges state lawmaker to make primary challenge to Democrat for Georgia House seat Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 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 ReidSeven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary Senate buzzsaw awaits 2020 progressive proposals Sanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan 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: Dem chairs to meet with progressives on drug pricing | Oregon judge says he will block Trump abortion rule | Trump vows to 'smash the grip' of drug addiction | US measles cases hit post-2000 record The Higher Education Act must protect free speech Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 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 MerkleyCongress can open financial institutions to legal cannabis industry with SAFE Banking Act Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts 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 CollinsMcConnell pledges to be 'Grim Reaper' for progressive policies Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump MORE (Maine) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's sloppy launch may cost him Cindy McCain weighs in on Biden report: 'No intention' of getting involved in race Why did Mueller allow his investigation to continue for two years? 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 CornynOn The Money: Fed pick Moore says he will drop out if he becomes a 'political problem' | Trump vows to fight 'all the subpoenas' | Deutsche Bank reportedly turning Trump records over to NY officials | Average tax refund down 2 percent Kushner saying immigration plan will be 'neutral' on legal admissions: report Cornyn campaign, Patton Oswalt trade jabs over comedian's support for Senate candidate 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.”