GOP to go 'nuclear' with rules change for Trump nominations

Senate Republicans are planning to go “nuclear” on Wednesday with a rules change for hundreds of nominations, escalating a war with Democrats over President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE’s picks.

After fuming for years over the pace of confirmations, Republicans say the years-long fight will soon come to a head, and the end result will dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to confirm most nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellEXCLUSIVE: Trump on reparations: 'I don't see it happening' Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns MORE (R-Ky.) made his pitch Tuesday for changing the rules after a closed-door caucus lunch, saying the executive calendar that tracks nominations is in “chaos.”

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“If we don’t stop this behavior now, it will become the norm,” he told reporters.

Nominations currently face up to an additional 30 hours of debate after they’ve overcome an initial hurdle showing they have the support to get confirmed. Under the GOP resolution, spearheaded by Sens. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordGOP senators divided over approach to election security Hillicon 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 MORE (R-Okla.) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request GOP senators divided over approach to election security MORE (R-Mo.), that would be reduced to two hours for most executive nominees and lower-level district judge nominations.

Supreme Court justices, appeals court judges, Cabinet picks and roughly a dozen boards and commissions would be exempt from the proposed rules change.

The rules change will mark the second time in as many years that Republicans have gone “nuclear” to make it easier to confirm the president’s nominees. GOP senators in April 2017 nixed the 60-vote filibuster for Supreme Court picks, mirroring an action taken by Democrats in 2013 on lower-level judicial picks and executive nominees.

Republicans say they are now at a breaking point with Democrats, whom they’ve accused of slow-walking the president’s nominees.

“Over the past two years, some in this body have decided that they will oppose any nominee suggested by President Trump,” said Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley raises concerns about objectivity of report critical of GOP tax law's effects Overnight Health Care: Key Trump drug pricing proposal takes step forward | Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic loses bid for license | 2020 Democrats to take part in Saturday forum on abortion rights Key Trump proposal to lower drug prices takes step forward MORE (R-Iowa).

Republicans tried to implement the rules change as a “standing order” on Tuesday, a move that would have required bipartisan support. But the effort fell short of the 60 votes needed to change the rules without deploying the nuclear option.

GOP Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial The 7 GOP senators who voted to block all or part of Trump's Saudi arms sale Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (Utah) was the only Republican to vote against the change, saying the Senate needs “to serve its deliberative function in our constitutional system.”

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“I oppose changing the post-cloture time rule. I certainly oppose breaking the rules of the Senate to do so. The current rules can work for the American people; they simply require us to do the same,” he added in a statement.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns Stephen King: 'It's time for Susan Collins to go' MORE (R-Maine) voted for the resolution on Tuesday but said she had not yet made a decision about whether she would support using the nuclear option to change the rules.

“I’m very sympathetic to the frustration over the continued obstruction by the Democrats on even noncontroversial nominees. I just don’t understand the rationale for that,” she said.

GOP leaders believe they have the 51 votes needed to force the rules change through over Democratic objections on Wednesday. Republicans held a conference meeting late Tuesday afternoon to discuss the procedural tactics for how they would bring up the change on the floor, and emerged from the closed-door meeting ready to move forward.

Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership team and chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said ahead of the meeting that Republicans have the votes needed to change the rules.

“It’s a matter of tactics, exactly how you do it,” he said. “But we’re good. We will get most of this done.”

McConnell has teed up two nominations for a procedural vote as soon as Wednesday — one on a district judge, the other a lower-level executive nominee — which would set the stage for Republicans to bring the nuclear option to the floor.

Republicans have made public appeals to the several Democratic presidential candidates, warning that GOP retribution could make it impossible for them to staff a future Democratic administration.

“Just imagine if Democrats’ behavior over the past two years becomes the norm. Presidents could be waiting years to adequately staff their administrations and the Senate would be perpetually tied up on unnecessary cloture votes, leaving less and less time to actually do the business of governing,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security McSally on Moore running for Senate again: 'This place has enough creepy old men' MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

GOP sponsors of the resolution reached out to Democratic senators to see if they could strike a deal, but those talks failed to gain significant momentum.

McConnell added that while there had been some interest among rank-and-file Democratic senators, he and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.) talked last week and couldn’t reach an agreement.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told The Hill last week that Democrats have tried to negotiate a deal with McConnell, with suggested changes such as postponing the rules change until 2021, applying it only to executive nominees or restoring the “blue slip” for circuit court picks.

Democrats argue that Republicans cannot simultaneously complain about the pace of confirmations while setting a record for the number of appeals court judges confirmed during a president’s first two years.

“Why change the rules for lifetime appointments and give only two hours of debate? This change is not just unnecessary, it would allow fundamentally unqualified candidates from judges to administration officials and ambassadors to be confirmed,” said Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Sanders unveils student debt plan amid rivalry with Warren MORE (D-Minn.), a 2020 presidential candidate and the top Democrat on the Rules Committee.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation MORE (D-Hawaii) added that “the significant rule change will help Donald Trump and his Republican enablers in the Senate to more swiftly pack our district courts with ideologically driven judges, judges who will make biased rulings in line with their personal ideological beliefs and not based on the law or the Constitution.”

Democrats are facing pressure from some progressive groups to refuse to return their blue slips on district court nominees. Republicans have said they will respect the blue slip for the lower-court judges, meaning if Democrats don’t return their blue slip, that could keep Trump from filling a seat from their home state.

But progressives could face an uphill battle to get Democrats to block nominations they would otherwise support.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinNegotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Schumer calls for delay on passage of defense bill amid Iran tensions MORE (D-Ill.) appeared to brush off calls for Democrats not to return their blue slips on district judges if Republicans move forward.

“It makes no sense for us to deny blue slips for nominees we support,” he said.