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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 TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' 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 McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster MORE (R-Ky.), approved the rules change in a 10-9 party-line vote.

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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 LankfordRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Senate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra 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.

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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 JohnsonRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senate relief package earmarks B for global coronavirus response MORE (R-Wis.) said he would support changing the rules with “Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHow to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster Who is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats 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 ShelbyCBC 'unequivocally' endorses Shalanda Young for White House budget chief Black Caucus members lobby Biden to tap Shalanda Young for OMB head On The Money: Senate panels postpone Tanden meetings in negative sign | Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers 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 McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra 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 CollinsMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party 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 AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes 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.

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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 CornynOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal 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 KingProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine 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 KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Klobuchar, Murkowski urge FTC to protect domestic abuse victims' data 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.

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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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers 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 SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade 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 GarlandPolitics in the Department of Justice can be a good thing What's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill MORE.”

Asked about the GOP argument that Democrats were the first to go nuclear, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhat's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role MORE (D-Ill.) quipped: “I have two words for Senator Lankford. Merrick Garland.”