President Trump during a lunch Tuesday is expected to press Senate Republicans to use the nuclear option to speed up the nomination process for his executive and judicial nominations, citing Democrat obstructionism.
It has taken an average of 84 days to confirm Trump’s nominees, far longer than for the four presidents who preceded him, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a non-partisan group that tracks confirmations.
“Waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history. Democrats are doing everything possible to obstruct, all they know how to do,” Trump tweeted on Saturday while also slamming the Senate for continuing to allow the Democrats —and some GOP members— to hold wall and border security funding back.
The Senate should get funding done before the August break, or NOT GO HOME. Wall and Border Security should be included. Also waiting for approval of almost 300 nominations, worst in history. Democrats are doing everything possible to obstruct, all they know how to do. STAY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2018
Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee approved a measure last month to shorten the debate time for nominees on the floor. By a party-line, 10-9 vote, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved a resolution from Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma that would slash post-cloture debate for most executive branch nominees from 30 hours to just 8 hours.
The rule would maintain the 30-hour rule for Supreme Court, circuit court and Cabinet-level nominees.
As expected, the idea doesn’t have Democratic support.
Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) has not decided whether he would try to implement the rule change through a simple majority vote as Harry Reid did in 2013 to lower the threshold for ending debate on executive branch and all judicial nominations with the exception of Supreme Court Justices. The procedure, oft named the “nuclear option,” was used by Senate Republicans to remove the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees early last year. Each time the Senate has used the nuclear option, it has been to lower the threshold to end filibuster debate from 60 votes to a simple majority.
The White House does not plan to sit idly by while the Senate continues paralyzed under the leadership of Mitch McConnell and the rump liberal GOP caucus that have frequently aligned with the Democrats on important reform issues. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters several weeks ago that Trump would be “making a larger foray” into the slow pace of Senate confirmations.
“But I think by continuing to highlight and recognize the level of obstruction, I think, it continues to put more pressure on the Senate to address this internally,” Short said.
Conservative Republican Senators such as Ted Cruz (Texas), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) and Steve Daines (Montana) say they want the Republican leadership to use the nuclear option.
“If I were president, I’d be asking us about it. ‘What are you going to do?’ I’d be pressing hard to change the rules of the Senate using Harry Reid’s precedent,” Johnson told The Hill Monday.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas on Monday told the press that using the nuclear option to speed floor debate on nominees is “a good idea” and that “we need to get it done.”
But muscling through the rules change without Democratic support isn’t sitting well with liberal Republicans such as Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), who have signaled that they are not yet on board with the plan.
Murkowski says debate time for nominees should be shortened only if Democrats agree to change the rules, which the Democrats have been noted to have unanimous opposition against.
She says a partisan rules change without Democratic votes would encourage them to run roughshod over the minority-party rights when they someday take back the chamber, seemingly forgetting that she was present when Majority Leader Harry Reid back in 2013 ran roughshod over the minority-party rights and used the nuclear option.
Republicans control 51 seats, but with Arizona Republican Senator John McCain permanently absent as he seeks treatment for brain cancer — while jealously guarding his seat in the Senate by refusing to retire— they have an actual majority of only 50 seats and could only afford a single defection if the nuclear option were triggered.
No Democrat is expected to vote for the rules change.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (South Dakota) said GOP leaders will first try to get 67 or 60 votes to shorten debate time.
If that doesn’t work, all options are on the table, he said.
“This idea that they can continue to use the clock the way they are to just stall us and kill time in the Senate, I think, is crying out for action,” Thune said.
“Our members might raise it with him,” he added the lunch with Trump on Tuesday.
Republicans say Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has slowed down the pace of confirmation votes by requiring hours to pass on the floor before final confirmation votes. Senate rules require 30 hours to elapse for each nominee after the Senate votes on cloture to formally end debate and set up a final vote.
As of May 10, Trump has sent 194 nominees to the Senate that had not yet been confirmed, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Meanwhile the number of vacancies on circuit, district and other federal courts has reached 149, according to uscourts.gov, bringing the total vacancies that have yet to be filled to 343.
Trump has repeatedly pressed McConnell to change the Senate’s rules unilaterally to speed work on his agenda, only to be repeatedly rebuffed.
He urged Senate Republicans in January to use the nuclear option to pass an omnibus spending deal over Democratic objections.
“If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget,” he tweeted.
Changes to Senate rules are just one of the items expected to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s lunch. Trump and Senate Republicans are likely to discuss GOP messaging on the tax law and the president’s upcoming diplomatic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, among other things.
A senior Republican aide said Trump would set the agenda at the meeting, noting he could also talk about the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem or his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. The meeting will also give Republican senators a chance to press a few points of their own, notably their donors concerns over the administration’s trade agenda, which has “raised fears” of a global trade war.
Update: Corrected headline