GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees

Senate Republicans are moving forward with a proposal to change the rules to speed up consideration of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani says he is unaware of reported federal investigation Louisiana's Democratic governor forced into runoff Lawmakers focus their ire on NBA, not China MORE's nominees.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee on a party-line 10-9 vote passed a resolution on Wednesday from Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the committee, and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell support for election security funds leaves Dems declaring victory Election security funds passed by Senate seen as welcome first step Senate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts MORE (R-Okla.) that would substantially cut down on the amount of debate time needed for hundreds of nominations.

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Republicans are actively discussing using the “nuclear option” to muscle through the change with only a simple majority. Several GOP senators signaled Wednesday that they would support passing the rules change without Democrats.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows GOP senator: 'Inappropriate' to discuss opponents, but impeachment a 'mistake' The revolution has arrived in college admissions MORE (R-Tenn.), a member of panel, warned that he wanted the rules change to be bipartisan but that Republicans could, and would, go it alone.

“Can Republicans senators change this? Yes we can,” he said. “Republican can change this and will.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (R-Texas), who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows Hillicon Valley: Google, Reddit to testify on tech industry protections | Trump joins Amazon-owned Twitch | House to vote on bill to combat foreign interference MORE (R-Ky.), predicted that Republicans would first try to pass the rules change by 60 votes, giving Democrats the chance to support it.  

“What you’re likely to see is a vote on a standing order to see if we can do it through regular means and if not we’ll have more discussion about what comes next,” he said.

Cornyn added that the rules change could come up on the floor within weeks, but caveated that discussions were ongoing. He said that he would support the nuclear option as a “last resort” and “if all else fails.”

Though Lankford says he wants to implement the rules change as a standing order, which would require it to be bipartisan because it needs 60 votes, no Democrats have said they will support it.

McConnell, who is a member of the committee, said he didn’t think the current stalemate on nominations was “fair” and that he didn’t believe the rules change “seriously disadvantages the minority.”

“The real crisis here is the administration itself, below cabinet level, has an enormous number of vacancies,” he said.

Currently, nominees are subjected to up to 30 hours of additional debate after proving they have the simple majority needed to defeat a filibuster and ultimately be confirmed. But the Blunt-Lankford resolution would significantly reduce that from 30 hours to as little as two hours for hundreds of Trump’s executive nominations and all district court judges.

Most Cabinet-level positions are exempted under the proposed rules change and would still be subjected to up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate. The Senate is expected to vote on William Barr’s attorney general nomination as soon as Wednesday.

Supreme Court justices and influential circuit court picks would also still face an additional 30 hours of debate under the resolution, as well as nominations for roughly a dozen boards and commissions, including the Federal Elections Commission and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

Blunt stopped short of saying Republicans would go nuclear for the rules change. He said Republicans are still “eager” to get a bipartisan agreement but didn’t rule out forcing it through by a simple majority.

“It needs to be done. We’ll just have to see how we wind up having to do it,” he said.

Republicans previously discussed changing the rules during the previous Congress. But their one-seat majority left them no room for error if they were going to go “nuclear,” and the proposal got pushback from some moderate senators.

Republicans now have a three-seat majority. And GOP senators, previously opposed to the rules change, are now not ruling it out.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMurkowski warns against rushing to conclusions on Trump impeachment GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   MORE (R-Alaska), who opposed going nuclear last year, said on Wednesday that she didn’t “want to take anything off the table right now,” when asked if she would support the nuclear option.

“It’s always on the table. Is it the tool that you want to turn to? Certainly not,” she said. “That’s not the preferred alternative but I think we know that it is one of the ways we can push this.”

Democrats are still angry over McConnell’s refusal to give Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSupreme Court can prove its independence — or its partisan capture The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems seize on Ukraine transcript in impeachment fight Brett Kavanaugh debate exemplifies culture war between left and right MORE, President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, a hearing or a vote in 2016. The Senate GOP than ended the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees when Trump selected Neil Gorsuch as his first nominee to the court.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds DEA allowed more opioids even as overdose deaths rose | Judge temporarily blocks Georgia abortion law | Three states report more vaping deaths | Dem proposes new fix for surprise medical bills During impeachment storm, senators cross aisle to lessen mass incarceration MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, brought up the fight over Garland on Wednesday, saying that Republicans had broken “records of obstruction … at the highest level.”

“It has created of course some hard feeling,” he said.

The proposed rules change comes as the Senate is reviving a long-running feud over judicial nominations after the Senate Judiciary Committee cleared more than 40 last week, including several without a “blue slip” from home-state senators.

The blue-slip rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to stop a lower-court nominee by refusing to return a sheet of paper, known as a blue slip, to the Judiciary Committee.

How strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the committee chairman, and enforcement has fluctuated depending on who wields the gavel.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFive ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Commander of Syrian Kurds to US: 'You are leaving us to be slaughtered' Trump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe MORE (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he would work to guarantee that home-state senators would be consulted while the administration was vetting potential nominees for a circuit court seat, but signaled that he would move a nominee even if a home-state senator was opposed.