The Rules and Administration Committee is scheduled to vote this week on a proposal from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that would substantially cut down on the required debate time for hundreds of the president’s picks.
But Democrats are fuming ahead of the vote, accusing Republicans of playing “partisan politics” and casting a “a sour note” over other unrelated, bipartisan negotiations.“The Cabinet is turning into a sad game of musical chairs, and the American people are losing out. … Senator Lankford’s proposal is misguided, it is wrong, it couldn’t be put forward at a worse possible time,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) added that he knows Lankford but “this is not a well-thought-out proposal. I think we can do better than that.”
Currently, nominations face up to an additional 30 hours of debate on the Senate floor even after they’ve cleared an initial hurdle that shows they have the support to pass, allowing opponents to eat up days of time.
But Lankford’s proposal would cut the required debate time from 30 hours down to eight hours for hundreds of nominees. It would further cap post-cloture debate time for district judges at two hours.
The proposal would mirror a provision from a 2013 resolution on limiting debate for most nominations during the 113th Congress. Democrats at the time held the majority in the Senate.
But Lankford’s rule change includes major exemptions: Most Cabinet-level nominees, Supreme Court nominees and circuit court nominees would still be subjected to the full 30 hours of debate.
Republicans have been privately mulling the rules change for more than a year but are under increasing pressure from both their base and Trump to speed up their consideration of White House nominations.
“The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!” Trump said in a tweet this week.
As of late last week, Trump has gotten 395 nominations confirmed with an average time frame of 85 days from nomination to confirmation, according to a tracker by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.
Trump has another 205 nominees stuck somewhere in the Senate’s backlog, according to the tracker.
Republicans argue they have to change the rules because Democrats are using the rulebook to slow walk Trump’s picks.
“Today we have a historic new precedent that’s been set for any president coming in. That was absolutely not done by Republicans in the past. … But it is being done right now,” Lankford said from the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, referred to Democrats’ tactics as “procedural sabotage.”
But because Republicans have a majority on the panel, they would be able to send the rule change to the full Senate without help from Democrats.
Democrats argue there’s a key difference between the 2013 resolution and approving a proposal now: The Senate has gone “nuclear” on nominations.
Senate Democrats, led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), nixed the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominations and lower-court nominations in 2013, arguing that Republicans were stonewalling Obama’s court picks.
Republicans, in turn, got rid of the 60-vote procedural hurdle for Supreme Court picks after Democrats rejected Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
Schumer fired back at Lankford during a weekly leadership press conference, saying “history is only partially being remembered.”
“I didn’t hear three words when Senator Lankford spoke on the floor,” he said. “Blue slip, 60 votes, Merrick Garland.”