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 TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally 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 BluntDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Senate Democrats to try to force additional election security votes MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the committee, and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordHillicon Valley: Facebook unveils new cryptocurrency | Waters wants company to halt plans | Democrats look to force votes on election security | Advertisers partner with tech giants on 'digital safety' | House GOP unveils cyber agenda Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills 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 AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Overnight Health Care: Poll finds most Americans misunderstand scope of 'Medicare for All' | Planned Parenthood chief readies for 2020 | Drugmakers' lawsuit ramps up fight with Trump Trump's health care focus puts GOP on edge 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 CornynWillie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Willie Nelson on supporting O'Rourke: 'Anything he wants to do, I'm with Beto' Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner MORE (R-Texas), who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request Senators reach .5B deal on Trump's emergency border request 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 MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data 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 GarlandBernie Sanders hits McConnell for saying DC, Puerto Rico statehood is 'full-bore socialism' Bernie Sanders hits McConnell for saying DC, Puerto Rico statehood is 'full-bore socialism' Democrats should initiate a 'Fire Mitch McConnell' campaign 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 DurbinOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions 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 GrahamOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless 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.