The GOP has found a solution to the Democrat obstruction of President Trump’s judicial nominees and will use the “nuclear option.”
NPR reported that the Senate voted largely along party lines to change its debate rules — a move that will speed up the confirmation process for some lower-level judicial and agency nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a complex procedural maneuver, known as the nuclear option, to cut debate for lower-level nominees from 30 hours to 2 hours. The change does not apply to cabinet-level nominees, federal appeals judges, members of some boards and commissions or the Supreme Court. It also does not change the 60 vote requirement to advance legislation.
All Senate Democrats opposed the move, and they were joined by 2 Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah.
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Senate Republicans deployed the “nuclear option” on Wednesday to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to confirm hundreds of President Trump’s nominees.
Senators voted 51-48 to change the rules for the amount of time it takes to confirm most executive nominations with only a simple majority of the chamber. GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine) joined with Democrats in opposing the rules change.
Republicans are expected to trigger the “nuclear option” for a second time later Wednesday to force through the same change for district court nominations.
The combined actions will result in most nominations that require Senate confirmation needing only two hours of debate after they’ve defeated a filibuster that shows they have the votes to ultimately be confirmed. Before Wednesday’s rules change they faced up to an additional 30 hours of debate.
Supreme Court picks, appeals court judges and Cabinet nominees will not be affected by the rules change and will still face the lengthier Senate floor debate.
But the move will let Republicans hit the gas on confirming nominations, a top priority in an era of divided government that has left lawmakers without big-ticket legislative agenda items.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued shortly before triggering the hardball procedural tactic that the Senate needed to go back to a “more normal and reasonable process” for confirming nominations.
“Our colleagues across the aisle have chosen to endlessly relitigate the 2016 election rather than actually participate in governing,” McConnell added. “This problem goes deeper than today. We’re talking about the future of this very institution and the future functioning of our constitutional government.
Republicans have set a record for the number of appeals judges confirmed during an administration’s first two years, but they’ve accused Democrats of using the chamber’s legislative rulebook to slow down lower-level executive and judicial nominations.
Of 715 “key positions” tracked by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, 435 have been confirmed by the Senate. An additional 131 are awaiting confirmation, 12 need to be formally nominated and 140 positions still need nominations.
And, according to the same tracker, some departments still have substantial vacancies in their Senate-confirmed positions.
The Interior Department, for example, has 41 percent of its Senate-confirmed employees in place, the Justice Department has 48 percent and the Department of Labor has 50 percent.
It’s the second time Republicans have gone “nuclear” to make it easier to confirm Trump’s nominees in as many years. In 2017, Republicans nixed the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, mirroring the action Democrats took in 2013 on lower-court and executive nominees.
Republicans made a last-ditch effort on Tuesday to pass the rules change as a standing order, which would have required 60 votes. But Democrats and Lee voted against the resolution, preventing it from getting the necessary support to pass.
The resolution was widely expected to fail the earlier test vote but was aimed at assuaging concerns from within the GOP caucus about moving forward with the nuclear option without at least trying to pass it with Democrats. The caucus held a meeting on Tuesday evening to walk through the plan for Wednesday.
“I think we had to convince 51, at least 51, of our members that we’re doing everything possible to try to do this through regular order,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about the point of Tuesday’s vote.