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 TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it 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 McConnellPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes On The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills 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 LankfordElection security funds passed by Senate seen as welcome first step Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Democrats press for action on election security 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 JohnsonTrump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP Republicans wary of US action on Iran Democratic senator warns O'Rourke AR-15 pledge could haunt party for years MORE (R-Wis.) said he would support changing the rules with “Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBarr fails to persuade Cruz on expanded background checks Harry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info 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 ShelbyHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts 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 McCainAmerica's newest comedy troupe: House GOP Michelle Malkin knocks Cokie Roberts shortly after her death: 'One of the first guilty culprits of fake news' Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema 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 CollinsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico 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 AlexanderDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns 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 CornynZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan 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 KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year 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 KlobucharDemocrats will not beat Trump without moderate policy ideas Harris revamps campaign presence in Iowa Sanders, Yang to miss CNN's town hall on LGBTQ issues 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 GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices 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 SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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 GarlandSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Gorsuch: Those who don't have 'great confidence in America' should 'look elsewhere' Trump stacking lower courts MORE.”

Asked about the GOP argument that Democrats were the first to go nuclear, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinA national interest rate cap would harm consumers in the name of consumers Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (D-Ill.) quipped: “I have two words for Senator Lankford. Merrick Garland.”