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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Ky.) signaled on Tuesday that he isn't ready, yet, to change the rules to speed up votes on President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 LankfordBipartisan group of senators introduce legislation designed to strengthen cybersecurity of voting systems Dems push to revive Congress' tech office US-China trade talks end without announcement of deal 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 McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) out of Washington, their 51-49 majority is effectively capped at 50 votes.

GOP Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care — Presented by Campaign for Accountability — House passes drug pricing bills amid ObamaCare row | Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law | Ocasio-Cortez confronts CEO over K drug price tag Senate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Bipartisan senators unveil measure to end surprise medical bills MORE (Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem senator: Many Republicans 'privately expressed concerns' about Mueller findings Congress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration 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.