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 John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' 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 ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary 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 McConnellBolton emerges as flashpoint in GOP debate on Iran On The Money: Treasury rejects Dem subpoena for Trump tax returns | Companies warn trade war about to hit consumers | Congress, White House to launch budget talks next week | Trump gets deal to lift steel tariffs on Mexico, Canada Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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 JohnsonBarr throws curveball into Senate GOP 'spying' probe Bipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems Trump Jr. subpoena spotlights GOP split over Russia probes 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 McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) is away from Washington for the foreseeable future because of health reasons. 

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration Overnight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Colorado secretary of state bans employees from traveling to Alabama after abortion law 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 Cruz Eye-popping number of Dems: I can beat Trump 'SleepyCreepy Joe' and 'Crazy Bernie': Trump seeks to define 2020 Dems with insults The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE (R-Texas) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBullock: Running for Senate 'never really got me excited' Liberian immigrant among Dems planning challenges to GOP senator in Montana Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations 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 RobertsThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Tough questions await Trump immigration plan Pat Robertson: Alabama 'has gone too far' with 'extreme' abortion law Pat Robertson on if Equality Act passes: The land will 'vomit you out' 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 LankfordBipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems Dems push to revive Congress' tech office US-China trade talks end without announcement of deal 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (D-N.Y.) said, “That was before the rules changed. That’s the difference.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharKlobuchar: 'Don't think' there are reasons to investigate Mueller probe's origins Klobuchar: Trump plan doesn't deal with 'comprehensive immigration issue' Buttigieg condemns 'voices on Fox' for spreading 'fear' and 'lies' ahead of town hall appearance 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 ThuneHillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Senate Commerce chair to renew push for regs on self-driving vehicles Hillicon Valley: Facebook co-founder calls for breaking up company | Facebook pushes back | Experts study 2020 candidates to offset 'deepfake' threat | FCC votes to block China Mobile | Groups, lawmakers accuse Amazon of violating children's privacy 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.’ ”