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GOP pushes to change Senate rules for Trump

A group of Republican senators wants to press the button on a new “nuclear option” that would limit debate time on President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE’s nominees.

The controversial move would hasten the pace of the president’s nominees getting confirmed and curtail Democratic power in the upper chamber. 

Senate leaders have twice used the nuclear option to facilitate action on nominees in recent years.

In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate MORE (D-Nev.) stripped the minority of the power to filibuster executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court.

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Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (R-Ky.) changed the rules with a party-line vote to lower the threshold for a Supreme Court nominee from 60 votes to a simple majority.

Some Republicans say it’s time again to deploy the controversial tactic, which earned its name because it is viewed as a procedural weapon of last resort.

“It’s completely gotten out of hand,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director MORE (R-Wis.). “It’s ridiculous we have all these 30 hours of post-cloture time. It’s chewing up the clock and we can’t address the major problems facing this nation.”

“I’ve been recommending for quite some time to utilize the Harry Reid precedent to change the rules [with] 51 votes,” he added.

McConnell, however, is not a fan of this aggressive plan. He has rebuffed pressure from House Republicans and Trump to change the Senate’s rules to curtail the filibuster, and Senate colleagues describe him as an institutionalist.

Johnson owes less allegiance to McConnell than some other Republicans because the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled ads out of his reelection race in 2016 because he was projected to lose.

He rallied to a surprising come-from-behind win over Democrat Russ Feingold and usually feels emboldened to speak his mind, even if it means contradicting his party’s leaders.

Johnson admitted that there are not yet enough Republican votes to change the rules unilaterally, as they have a narrow 51-seat majority and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCindy McCain planning 'intimate memoir' of life with John McCain Trump-McConnell rift divides GOP donors Arkansas state senator says he's leaving Republican Party MORE (R-Ariz.) is away from Washington for the foreseeable future because of health reasons. 

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits Media circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden Why the 'Never-Trumpers' flopped MORE (Maine), have stated their opposition to using the nuclear option to speed up floor business. 

Other Republicans agree with Johnson that it’s time to deploy the nuclear option if Democrats balk at changing the rules for nominees under regular order, which requires 67 or 60 votes under different scenarios.

Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Texas attorney general hits links with Trump before CPAC appearance MORE (R-Texas) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Kennedy apologizes for calling Haaland a 'whack job' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help MORE (R-Mont.) on Wednesday said they also support using that path if Democrats refuse to reduce the length of procedural time required for nominees.

Cruz said he “strongly” supports reducing floor time for nominees and would back the nuclear option.

Under current rules, 30 hours must elapse on the floor every time the Senate votes to end dilatory debate and advance a nominee — unless there’s unanimous consent to yield back floor time.

This forces GOP leaders to perform triage by making tough choices about what executive branch positions are important enough to deserve floor time, leaving some nominees in limbo for months.

The Trump administration has complained that more than 300 Senate-confirmed positions remain unfilled, according to GOP senators, and they’re feeling increasing pressure to do something about it.

“Thirty hours is just too much. You have cloture motion filed on a nominee and the nominee gets 98 votes and then you wait 30 hours for nothing else but to slow the process down,” said Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Roberts joins lobbying firm weeks after Senate retirement Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Window quickly closing for big coronavirus deal MORE (R-Kan.), who said he would have to think more about backing the nuclear option.

Republican leaders want to negotiate an agreement with Democrats to limit how much time must elapse on the Senate floor after lawmakers vote to proceed on a nominee.

They want to implement the bipartisan agreement that was in place during 2013 and 2014, which limited debate time for executive nominees below the level of the Cabinet to eight hours and for district court nominees to two hours. Nominees to the Supreme Court, appellate courts and Cabinet-level positions would still require 30 hours of post-cloture debate.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordRepublicans see Becerra as next target in confirmation wars Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' MORE (R-Okla.) is leading the negotiations with Democrats.

“Same exact thing that was in 2013,” he said of the proposal the GOP favors.

He said the reform could be made by voting to change the Senate rules, which requires 67 votes, or by issuing a permanent standing order, which requires 60 votes.

There are 21 positions listed at the executive Cabinet level. They would still require 30 hours on the floor after the Senate votes to end dilatory debate on nominations to those posts.

Democrats, however, aren’t interested in striking a deal to speed up staffing of the Trump administration.

They say the dynamic has changed after Republicans held the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia vacant for months and then changed the Senate rules to confirm conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace him.

Republicans say Democrats broke tradition first by using the nuclear option to eliminate filibusters on executive branch and most judicial nominees in November 2013.

Asked about reimplementing the 2013 bipartisan agreement, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) said, “That was before the rules changed. That’s the difference.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, did not appear optimistic for a deal when asked about her talks with Lankford but declined to go into detail.

“We’re going to continue to talk about it,” she said.

A spokesman for Schumer said 145 Trump nominees are stuck in Republican-controlled committees and nearly 60 high-level positions at the State Department lack nominees.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on Friday blamed Democrats for what he called “historic obstruction.”

He noted that the Senate has had 79 cloture votes on nominees in the first 14 months of the Trump administration, about five times as many as the number during the same spans of the past four administrations combined.

Often Democrats have required the full 30 hours of post-cloture debate time to elapse before allowing a final vote.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneAfter vote against coronavirus relief package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship in Congress Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate GOP leader, said support for the nuclear option could pick up if Democrats refuse to speed the processing time for nominees.

“Ideally it would be the regular order, but I suppose we’ll see,” he said. “Our members would like to have a vote and see where the Democrats are.

“If they continue this practice of just dragging things out and making it really impossible to get anything done then I could see our members saying, ‘enough already.’ ”