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 TrumpChasten Buttigieg: 'I've been dealing with the likes of Rush Limbaugh my entire life' Lawmakers paint different pictures of Trump's 'opportunity zone' program We must not turn our heads from the effects of traumatic brain injuries 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 McConnellEverytown plans ad blitz on anniversary of House background check bill Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms 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 LankfordSenate drama surrounding Trump trial starts to fizzle The Hill's Morning Report - Trump defense rests, GOP struggles to bar witnesses GOP confident of win on witnesses 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 JohnsonWhistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics Congress looks to strengthen hand in State Department following impeachment Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (R-Wis.) said he would support changing the rules with “Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid on 'Medicare for All': 'Not a chance in hell it would pass' The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms Bottom line 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 ShelbyOn The Money: Republicans expect Trump to pull controversial Fed nominee | Inside Judy Shelton's confirmation hearing | Trump extends emergency declaration at border Republicans expect Trump to withdraw controversial Fed nominee Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall 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 after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Advice for fellow Democrats: Don't count out Biden, don't fear a brokered convention McSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad 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 CollinsDemocratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Susan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll 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 AlexanderThe Trump administration's harmful and immoral attack on children Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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 CornynTrump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs 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 KingOcasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' Use of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol Hill Patrick Dempsey to star in pilot for CBS political drama 'Ways and Means' 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 KlobucharWarren declines to disavow super PAC that supports her San Diego Union-Tribune endorses Buttigieg 'Where's your spoon?' What we didn't learn in the latest debate 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyErnst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Overnight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case Mnuchin defends Treasury regulations on GOP tax law 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 SchumerDemocratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response Barr to testify before House Judiciary panel Graham won't call Barr to testify over Roger Stone sentencing recommendation 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 GarlandMitch McConnell may win the impeachment and lose the Senate The Trumpification of the federal courts Juan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment MORE.”

Asked about the GOP argument that Democrats were the first to go nuclear, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Trump commutes sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich in rash of clemency orders The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (D-Ill.) quipped: “I have two words for Senator Lankford. Merrick Garland.”