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 TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 ReidNevada journalist: Harry Reid will play 'significant role' in Democratic primary The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached 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 McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal 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 JohnsonTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Hillicon Valley: Twitter to start verifying 2020 primary candidates | FTC reportedly weighs injunction over Facebook apps | Bill would give DHS cyber unit subpoena powers | FCC moves to designate 988 as suicide-prevention hotline Senate Republicans air complaints to Trump administration on trade deal 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 McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? 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 — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump 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 CruzThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate Senate Republicans air complaints to Trump administration on trade deal Senate passes Armenian genocide resolution MORE (R-Texas) and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesBullock drops White House bid, won't run for Senate Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine 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 RobertsLankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Intel panel readies to hand off impeachment baton The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' 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 LankfordThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman Trump to sign order penalizing colleges over perceived anti-Semitism on campus: report 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 SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE (D-N.Y.) said, “That was before the rules changed. That’s the difference.”

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Booker says he will not make December debate stage Yang: 2020 rivals in Senate should be able to campaign amid impeachment 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 ThuneTrump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn House GOP lawmaker wants Senate to hold 'authentic' impeachment trial Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial 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.’ ”