WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s Senate GOP allies, frustrated by delays in confirming dozens of lower-profile nominees, are forcing through a rules change to cut back debate on most of his picks.
The GOP plan is to indefinitely restore rules in place during the first few years of President Barack Obama’s second term. Those rules have lapsed, allowing any senator to force 30 hours of debate on a nominee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s no stranger to obstructionist tactics himself, says the situation has gotten out of hand, with the Senate taking 128 votes to end debate on Trump’s nominees during his first two years in office, far more than under other presidents.
“The Senate’s advice and consent power is not supposed to be used to slow-walk all of a president’s nominees simply because one party doesn’t like the president who is doing the nominating,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking Republican.
The proposed rules change would limit debate on most nominees to two hours instead of the 30 hours now required. Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court nominations, and appeals court judges would be exempted from the new rules.
McConnell is set to employ a procedural maneuver to effectively change the rules by a party-line vote instead of the supermajority that would ordinarily be required.
Former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada used the same approach in 2013 to lower the filibuster threshold on most nominations to a simple majority when faced with what Democrats said was GOP obstructionism.
Republicans said at the time that Reid and Democrats would come to regret that rules change, which has given Trump largely free rein to fill numerous judicial vacancies that have piled up over the years.
Democrats, who benefited from prior rules changes under Obama, are strongly protesting now. They say the GOP move would enable Trump and future presidents, so long as their party controls the Senate, to run roughshod over the Senate.
They say the hurdles required to win confirmation should be difficult as a way to ensure nominees are ethical, qualified and responsive to requests by senators for information.
“There is no emergency that justifies changing the Senate rules. Sen. McConnell himself admitted the Senate has plenty of time to consider nominees,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “This is all about avoiding close scrutiny for extreme ideological nominees that Republicans want to pack onto the federal courts for lifetime appointments.”
Democrats also say that GOP complaints over their tactics now ring hollow after the obstructionism Obama experienced over his two terms.
Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge nominated to the Supreme Court by Obama, failed to get a Senate hearing, and Republicans stalled numerous other Obama judicial nominees — both when the GOP was in the minority and then after retaking the Senate in 2015.
Armed with the White House and control of the Senate, Trump is now confirming both district and appeals court judges at a dizzying pace and is positioned to reshape the federal judiciary even if he fails to win a second term.