McConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees

McConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) signaled on Tuesday that he isn't ready, yet, to change the rules to speed up votes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE's nominees.

Asked if he would give the proposal a vote, and if he was willing to go "nuclear" to implement the change, the tightlipped GOP leader said, "We'll see."

"We continue to discuss whether that will be necessary. An easier way to deal with all this, however, would be to have greater cooperation and the cooperation has picked up some this year," McConnell told reporters.

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He added that "the attitude of the Democrats seems to be better. That’s the best way to solve the problem. To get back to some degree of normalcy.”

A group of GOP senators, led by James LankfordJames Paul LankfordConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Outdated global postal system hurts US manufacturers Tech mobilizes to boost election security MORE (Okla.), want to cut down on the amount of debate required for nominations once they clear an initial hurdle that shows they have the votes to be confirmed. 

Currently, nominations are subjected to an extra 30 hours of debate. 

Lankford's proposal would cut that down to eight hours of debate and further cap debate time for district court judges at two hours.

Most Cabinet-level nominees, Supreme Court justices and circuit court judges would still be subjected to the full 30 hours. 

If they could win over the support of Democrats, Republicans could change the rules with either 67 or 60 votes, similar to a resolution that passed in 2013 but only governed the 113th Congress.

McConnell noted on Tuesday that would be the "ideal way" to handle any rules change. 

But Democrats have appeared cool to changing the rules on debate time.

That means if Republicans want to try to change the rules for Trump's nominees they would need to go nuclear and move forward needing only a simple majority. 

A group of conservative senators is publicly urging leadership to take the hardline step. 

But it's unclear if they would ultimately have the support from within the caucus to do that. 

With Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Another recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us MORE (R-Ariz.) out of Washington, their 51-49 majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Budowsky: Kavanaugh and the rights of women Key GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins: My office has gotten 'pretty ugly voicemails, threats' over Kavanaugh The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Budowsky: Kavanaugh and the rights of women MORE (Maine) have both said they either do not want to change the rules or do not support going nuclear to do so. 

But Republicans are under a mountain of pressure from their base and the White House to speed up their confirmation of Trump's nominees.

A group of Republican senators is calling on McConnell to keep the Senate in session longer and potentially cancel the August recess in order to pass government funding legislation and catch up on a backlog of nominations. 

Trump backed the strategy over the weekend in a tweet.

"The Senate should get funding done before the August break, or NOT GO HOME," Trump tweeted. "Wall and Border Security should be included. Also waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history. Democrats are doing everything possible to obstruct, all they know how to do. STAY!"

Confirming nominees has become increasingly partisan since 2013 when the Senate passed a similar, but temporary, rules change. 

Senate Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), nixed the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominations and lower-court nominations in 2013, arguing Republicans were stonewalling then-President Obama's court picks.

Republicans, in turn, got rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle in 2017 for Supreme Court picks after Democrats rejected Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.