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GOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees

GOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees
© Greg Nash

Republicans are pushing forward with a proposal to change the Senate’s rules to speed up consideration of President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Five takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE’s nominees.

The move is likely to ramp up tensions surrounding nominations, which had already become a flashpoint during the Trump era.

The proposal got a jolt of momentum Wednesday when the Rules and Administration Committee, which includes Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Schumer: Fight for Senate is 'neck and neck' Nikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump MORE (R-Ky.), approved the rules change in a 10-9 party-line vote.

If approved by the full Senate, the proposal would affect how the chamber handles hundreds of the president’s picks.

Currently, nominations need 30 hours of debate time, even after they’ve overcome an initial hurdle that shows they have the simple majority needed to pass.

The proposal 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 (Okla.) would cut the additional 30 hours of debate down to eight hours. Post-cloture debate for district judge nominees would be further capped at two hours.

Republicans argue the change is necessary because Democrats are slow-walking the president’s picks in an attempt to undermine the Trump administration.

McConnell said Democrats are “wasting the Senate’s time” by dragging out debate time for uncontroversial nominees.

“At some point the question is, what is a constructive use of the Senate’s time?” he said ahead of the vote.

Lankford added that he's "not trying to be partisan" but to "fix" a long-running issue.

Democrats "had this [in 2013] and then they added the nuclear option on top of it,” Lankford said.

As of late last week, Trump has gotten 395 nominations confirmed, with an average timeframe of 85 days from nomination to confirmation, according to a tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service. 

Trump has another 205 nominees stuck somewhere in the Senate’s backlog, according to the tracker.

Republicans have been privately mulling the rules change for more than a year but are under increasing pressure from both their base and Trump to act.

“The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!” Trump said in a tweet this week.

Lankford's proposal does include some exemptions. Most Cabinet-level nominees, as well as Supreme Court nominees and Circuit Court nominees, would still be subjected to the full 30 hours of debate.

What happens now that the committee has taken action is unclear, with Republicans mulling multiple options for how to pass the rules change.

McConnell hasn’t publicly weighed in on giving the rule change a vote before the full Senate. A spokesman for McConnell said on Wednesday that they didn’t have any announcement on when, or how, it would get a vote. 

Some Republicans are urging leadership to go “nuclear” for a second time since Trump took office so they could approve the rule change with a simple majority vote.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (R-Wis.) said he would support changing the rules with “Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFive takeaways from testy Heller-Rosen debate in Nevada Major overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees MORE’s precedent of 51 votes,” referring to the former Senate Democratic leader.

“We should have done this a year ago. ...It’s so abusive what the Democrats are doing here,” Johnson told The Hill. “Both sides are abusing this process but Democrats are abusing it to the nth degree here now. …[The] logjam has to break.”

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 former chairman and current member of the Rules committee, said “the Democrats, and I’ve got a lot of Democratic friends, they’re slow walking all the stuff, and they’re bringing us to do this.” 

Asked if he would support implementing the change on debate time with a simple majority, Shelby snapped his fingers and quipped: “Majority rules, everywhere.”

Republicans only have a 51-49 majority, meaning they would have no room for error if they decided to pursue the so-called nuclear option.

With Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family Arizona Dems hope higher Latino turnout will help turn the state blue McConnell: GOP could try to repeal ObamaCare again after midterms MORE (R-Ariz.) out of Washington as he battles brain cancer, Republicans would be left with the bare 50 votes needed — and not every GOP senator has endorsed the hardball procedural tactic.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsConservatives bankrolled and dominated Kavanaugh confirmation media campaign The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns Susan Collins and the mob mentality MORE (R-Maine) previously said she did not support further changes to the rules after Republicans went nuclear to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. She told The Hill at the time that she had made her opposition to further changes known to the caucus.

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.) sidestepped when asked if he would support changing the rules with only GOP support, arguing that Democrats should support the proposal.

“Why would we want the world’s greatest deliberative body, the Senate, when people turn on C-SPAN and look and see it and see that we’re doing nothing?” he said.

But Alexander also warned separately on Wednesday that without a truce on nominations, senators would likely see “nuclear option after nuclear option after nuclear option, which is a prelude to the destruction of the Senate.”

In 2013, senators passed a similar rules change resolution by a vote of 78-16, but that only governed the rules for the 113th Congress. Democrats were in control of the Senate at the time.

Key Republicans are signaling they want to first try to pass the rules change through regular order, which could require as few as 60 votes if leadership tried to enact it as a standing order.

“I think our members would like to see us try to do it through regular order first,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Lankford also brushed aside a question about going nuclear, saying he it would be his preference to go through the “regular rules process.”

But winning over at least nine Democrats seems unlikely, given the intense pressure they are under pressure from their own base to not be seen as helping Trump.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel People have forgotten 'facade' of independent politicians, says GOP strategist Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight MORE (I-Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, said on Wednesday that he wants to continue talks about the rules, including floating that if nominees can show they can get 60 votes, the Senate could then compress the amount of post-cloture debate time required.

He also questioned why the Senate can’t consider multiple items simultaneously, a move that currently requires unanimous consent.

"If there is a way to make this bipartisan," said Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharIs there a 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), the top Democrat on the committee. "I think a number of us would like to work with you on that."

Debates around nominations have become increasingly controversial in recent years, with both sides accusing the other of poisoning the well.

Democrats argue that minority protections have eroded since 2013, fundamentally changing the dynamics of changing the rules on nominations.

Senate Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Reid (D-Nev.), nixed the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominations and lower-court nominations in 2013, arguing that 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 nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP plays hardball in race to confirm Trump's court picks Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight Dems angered by GOP plan to hold judicial hearings in October MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has sparked anger form Democrats by signaling he will move forward with some judicial nominations over the objections of home state senators.

Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Health care a top policy message in fall campaigns McConnell says deficits 'not a Republican problem' Medicare for All is disastrous for American seniors and taxpayers MORE (D-N.Y.) fired back at Lankford during a weekly leadership press conference, saying “history is only partially being remembered.”

Democrats remain bitter over Republicans refusal to give Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, a committee hearing or a vote.

“I didn’t hear three words when Senator Lankford spoke on the floor,” Schumer said. “Blue slip, 60 votes, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMajor overhauls needed to ensure a violent revolution remains fictional It’s Mitch McConnell’s Washington – and we’re just living in it Ending the judicial Wheel of Fortune: The need for 18-year Supreme Court terms MORE.”

Asked about the GOP argument that Democrats were the first to go nuclear, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Trump officials ratchet up drug pricing fight GOP senators: Mnuchin should not go to Saudi Arabia MORE (D-Ill.) quipped: “I have two words for Senator Lankford. Merrick Garland.”