Senate GOP to Force Rules Change for Approving Nominees

WASHINGTON (CN) – Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican attempt to change Senate rules to speed up consideration of some of President Donald Trump’s nominees, but Republican leadership is expected to use procedural tools to push the measure through later this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., returns to his office after speaking on the Senate floor on Sept. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Current Senate rules allow for 30 hours of debate time after a nominee clears a procedural vote known as cloture before a final confirmation vote may be held. During that intervening time, senators often do come to the Senate floor to discuss a nominee, but speeches are typically given to an empty chamber and most of the substantive fight over nominees takes place in the committee before they reach the full Senate for a vote.     

The new proposal would limit that post-cloture time to two hours for lower-level presidential appointments and nominees to federal district courts and the Court of Federal Claims.

The measure did not reach the 60 votes needed to go forward on Tuesday afternoon, falling 51-48. Except for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is required to vote no if he wants to bring a failed bill up for another vote, Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, was the only Republican to vote against the measure.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the vote, McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged that Democrats would not agree to the rules change, but said Republicans would move forward with the measure nonetheless.

Republicans would need to alter the Senate’s procedural requirements to pass the measure without support from Democrats, much as they did to clear a filibuster of Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017.

Known as the nuclear option, Democrats did the same in 2013 to do away with the filibuster for nominees to federal courts other than the Supreme Court.

The move to change those procedural requirements would only need a majority of senators in favor to succeed and Republican leadership hinted Tuesday that such a move is in store for later in the week.

“This does need to stop, Democrats know it needs to stop, we intend to stop this abuse of the rules this week,” Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told reporters Tuesday.

After the measure to speed consideration of nominees failed Tuesday, McConnell moved to reconsider the vote, the first step in the process to alter Senate procedure to approve it without the support of Democrats.

Republicans have complained Democrats have required cloture votes for even uncontroversial nominees in an attempt to slow down the pace of confirmations passing through the Senate. McConnell on Tuesday said Democrats should not be surprised if they face similar efforts the next time a Democrat is in the White House if the proposed rules change does not succeed.

“If we don’t stop this behavior now, it will become the norm and the next time my party is in the minority in the Senate, and there’s a Democratic president, I’ll have members saying well, why should we be cooperative, this is the way things are done these days,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “So it needs to stop.”

But in opposing the rules change, Democrats have noted that some of Trump’s nominees have been pulled in the last minutes before their confirmation votes, including Thomas Farr, who was up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Farr’s nomination failed when Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., announced his opposition just before the Senate was to confirm him.

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