Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees

Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees
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Senate Republicans at an off-campus meeting on Thursday discussed making a rules change to speed the confirmation of many of President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE’s nominees after Democrats slowed the process during Trump’s first two years in office.

“There was a lot of talk about the history of the Senate and appointments. It was a big topic of conversation,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail MORE (R-Fla.), who attended the all-day strategy session that Senate Republicans held Thursday at Nationals Park in southeast Washington, D.C. 

The fate of Trump’s nominees was a top concern of Senate GOP leaders heading into the meeting.

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“Sen. McConnell is going to talk about the historic level of obstruction by the Democrats for our nominees at the executive level and how he’s had to file cloture well over a hundred times since President Trump has taken office,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoAfrica's women can change a continent: Will Ivanka give them her full support? Overnight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Wyo.) told reporters before the working session, referring to the number of times Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellElection agency limps into 2020 cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration MORE (R-Ky.) has had to quash Democratic delaying tactics.

Of the 704 positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, only 433 are filled, according to a tracking service provided by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service. 

Republican senators who attended the meeting said they discussed reducing the amount of floor time that must elapse after the Senate votes to end debate before a nominee can receive a floor vote.

The proposal would only apply to district court and sub-Cabinet level executive branch nominees. 

Rubio said “there are a lot of members that would like to see the debate time, post-cloture, lowered from 30 hours.”

“It was discussed at the retreat and many times before and every month that goes by with this sort-of blockade increases the number of people that are open to that,” Rubio said.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerCongress can open financial institutions to legal cannabis industry with SAFE Banking Act Dem super PAC campaign urges Republicans to back impeachment On The Money: Cain withdraws from Fed consideration | Says he didn't want 'pay cut' | Trump sues to block subpoena for financial records | Dems plot next move in Trump tax-return battle MORE (R-Colo.) said McConnell has been forced to file cloture on 128 of Trump’s nominees, more than the last three presidents combined.

“It is a sick obstruction of the process,” he said. “Something should be fixed.”

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Republican senators who attended Thursday's meeting said their preference is to reduce the time it takes to process nominees through a permanent standing order, which would need 60 votes to pass and require the support of at least seven Democrats.

But one GOP senator said if Democrats refuse, Republicans will then seriously consider changing the floor rules through a simple-majority vote — a controversial tactic known as the nuclear option.

“We talked about the rules of the Senate and the president’s efforts to get in place the president’s nominees, who continue to be blocked by Democrats,” a lawmaker said.

Republicans say they have tried for the past year to get Democrats to agree to shortening the time it takes to process lower-level nominees, but without success.

“The Democrats say this is a good idea but let’s start it in 2021,” the GOP source added. “Are Democrats going to change their behavior? Probably not.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSeven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary Senate buzzsaw awaits 2020 progressive proposals Sanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan MORE (D-Nev.) deployed the nuclear option in 2013 to lower the threshold for ending filibusters of executive branch nominees and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court from 60 votes to a simple majority.

McConnell used the same tactic in 2017 to strip the minority of the power to filibuster Supreme Court nominees, paving the way for Justice Neil Gorsuch to win confirmation. 

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage MORE (N.Y.) said in January 2017 that he argued against Reid using the nuclear option to lower the threshold for ending filibusters of Cabinet-level nominees “because on such important positions there should be some degree of bipartisanship.”

Democrats last month refused to confirm a year-end package of judicial nominees, as is usually the custom at the end of a yearlong session.

They argued that Republicans had failed to honor the “blue-slip” tradition, whereby both senators from a judicial nominee’s home state must sign off before he or she receives a floor vote. 

Republicans countered that Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCongress can retire the retirement crisis On The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report MORE (R-Iowa) worked with Democratic colleagues on processing judicial nominees while he served as Judiciary Committee chairman over the past two years and the blue-slip courtesy is still alive and well.

Democrats agreed to confirm a package of 60 nominees on Jan. 2, the last day of the 115th Congress. The batch included ambassadors to two dozen countries as well as eight U.S. attorneys and the director of the Census Bureau.

It did not include any lifetime federal judicial appointments.

Republican senators at the meeting also discussed broader political strategy for their party ahead of the 2020 presidential election and looked back at the results of the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Karl Rove, who served as former President George W. Bush’s top political adviser, spoke to the conference at lunch about the importance of expanding the GOP’s membership beyond its current base. 

GOP lawmakers also talked about jobs, the economy, border security and national security.

—Jordain Carney contributed.