GOP faces internal battle over changing Senate rules

Senate Republicans are battling over whether to use the so-called nuclear option to speed up consideration of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE’s nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The national emergency will haunt Republicans come election season Trump: McConnell should keep Senate in session until nominees are approved MORE (R-Ky.) is under pressure from conservative colleagues and outside groups to change the Senate’s rules to ensure a quicker pace on Trump’s court picks.

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Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzEl Chapo's lawyer fires back at Cruz: 'Ludicrous' to suggest drug lord will pay for wall Democrats have a chance of beating Trump with Julian Castro on the 2020 ticket Poll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again MORE (R-Texas), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMontana governor visiting Iowa amid talk of possible 2020 bid Will Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year? Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal MORE (R-Mont.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWhite House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority GOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it MORE (R-Wis.) all want to change the rules to a simple majority vote — a tactic known as the “nuclear option” because it is so controversial.

But moderates such as Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOn unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE (R-Alaska) aren’t comfortable with using the maneuver because it will further inflame partisan passions in the chamber.

“If we’re going to change the rules, I want to be able to change the rules in the right way,” she told The Hill, expressing her preference for a bipartisan vote.

She said muscling through the changes over Democratic objections will just lead Democrats to do the same thing when they have the Senate majority.

“When we try to muscle things through, then you get in the position when the shoe’s on the other foot, when the other side’s in charge, we try to change it again, try to muscle it through on that side,” she said. 

Murkowski is one of at least two Senate Republicans opposed to going nuclear.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats On unilateral executive action, Mitch McConnell was right — in 2014 Congress must step up to protect Medicare home health care MORE (R-Maine) told The Hill last year that she did not support the rules change and has voiced opposition to it within the GOP conference.

Other Republicans, however, are losing patience.

“We continue to witness historic obstruction by Senate Democrats when it comes to funding the government and confirming nominations,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Perdue noted on Friday that there are only 71 working days left in the fiscal year — and only 43 excluding Mondays and Fridays, when the Senate rarely works full days.

Perdue said the Senate should start working “around the clock” to catch up on passing spending bills and “break through the backlog of confirmations.”

“We need to speed up the process,” he said.

The rules are normally changed by a two-thirds vote of the entire chamber or by issuing a standing order, with 60 votes. Either way, rules and precedent changes traditionally require bipartisanship.

The nuclear option requires a simple majority vote, but with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid MORE (R-Ariz.) at home in Arizona battling cancer, Republicans have a razor-thin majority of 50-49.

They cannot afford a single defection on an attempt to change the rules unilaterally.

Outside conservative groups are gearing up for a battle over Trump’s nominees.

The Judicial Crisis Network on Thursday launched a million-dollar television and digital advertising campaign targeting Senate Democrats for slow-walking Trump’s judicial nominees.

Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel and policy director, said if Democrats refuse to vote to limit debate time for nominees, “then the level of obstruction has become such that they would need to change the rules with 51 votes.”

“We’ve gone from 108 judicial vacancies when Trump took office to 180 and that’s shocking,” she added.

Severino declined to say, however, whether her group would run ads targeting Murkowski and other Republicans who balk at using the nuclear option.

A second Republican strategist predicted that moderate GOP senators will be hit by pressure ads from conservative groups.

“My understanding is that most of the members are ready to do it and there’s some question of a couple holdouts,” the strategist said, requesting anonymity to discuss internal conference deliberations.

“McConnell has to decide he needs to do it and make his case to the holdouts,” the source added.

If Murkowski and Collins resist the leadership’s push to employ the nuclear option, the GOP strategist said groups would try to persuade them privately before resorting to public pressure tactics.

McConnell is racing to confirm as many judges as he can before the end of the year.

He set up procedural votes on six circuit court nominees before Congress left for a weeklong early May recess.

The problem he faces is that Senate rules require up to 30 hours of debate to lapse on the floor after members vote on cloture, the motion that sets up a final vote on a nominee.

Republicans have proposed reinstating a rule from 2013 that limits debate on a District Court judge to two hours, debate for most other nominees to eight hours, and keeps the 30-hour debate limit for Supreme Court, circuit court and Cabinet nominees.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats National emergency declaration — a legal fight Trump is likely to win House Judiciary Dems seek answers over Trump's national emergency declaration MORE (D-N.Y.), however, isn’t going along with it. He says things have changed too much since both parties agreed to limit debate time for nominees at the start of the 113th Congress.

Schumer argued in a floor speech last month that Republicans had already taken “brazen steps this Congress to limit minority rights on nominations” by using the nuclear option in April of 2017 to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

He also cited McConnell’s decision in 2016 to refuse a Judiciary Committee hearing or floor vote for Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab MORE, former President Obama’s choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“It takes a lot of gall to complain about obstruction when Leader McConnell opened the gates to obstruction, made obstruction his watchword when he did what he did to Merrick Garland,” Schumer fumed.