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 TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? 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 RubioHillicon Valley: Warren turns up heat in battle with Facebook | Instagram unveils new data privacy feature | Advocacy group seeks funding to write about Big Tech TikTok adds former lawmakers to help develop content moderation policies This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington 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 BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (Wyo.) told reporters before the working session, referring to the number of times Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey 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 GardnerTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong GOP braces for impeachment brawl Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy 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 ReidTrump thanks Reid for warning Democrats not to underestimate him Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump Harry Reid predicts Trump, unlike Clinton, won't become more popular because of impeachment 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 SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' 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 GrassleyTrump's latest plan to boost ethanol miffs both corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Syria furor underscores Trump's isolation GOP braces for impeachment brawl 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.