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 TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? 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 BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE (R-Mo.), the chairman of the committee, and James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Hillicon Valley: GOP hits back over election security bills | Ratcliffe out for intel chief | Social media companies consider policies targeting 'deepfakes' | Capital One, GitHub sued over breach The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden camp feels boost after Detroit debate 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 AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democratic field narrows with Inslee exit McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster 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 MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate 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 GarlandLaw professor: Court-packing should be 'last resort' Here's how senators can overcome their hyperpartisanship with judicial nominees McConnell campaign criticized for tombstone with challenger's name 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 DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks 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 GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death 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.