WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to force votes next week on a Republican plan to change the Senate’s rules to short-circuit Democrats’ ability to slow nominations from President Donald Trump.
McConnell announced the rules change on the Senate floor Thursday, setting up a potential vote next week on using the procedural “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules via a simple majority. McConnell has already used the procedure to gut the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees after former Democratic Leader Harry Reid deployed the so-called nuclear option years ago to eliminate it for all other judicial nominees.
McConnell blamed “unprecedented obstruction” of Trump nominees by Democrats as the reason for the change. Delays have “crippled” the ability of the Trump administration to staff up, McConnell said, including numerous lower-level appointees.
“The status quo is unsustainable for the Senate,” McConnell said. “The Senate is going to do something about it.”
The move will free up more time to fulfill McConnell’s top priority: confirming as many conservative judges as possible. Shifting the judiciary to the right will be an important part of the party’s pitch to voters in 2020.
McConnell complained that even Senate Democrats running for president were preventing the president from staffing his administration, and he warned that such obstruction would become the new norm and Republicans would use the same tactics against Democrats.
Several Republicans had said this week they were hopeful a deal would be reached with Democrats to change the rules to speed nominations, but that hasn’t happened yet.
Major nominations such as Cabinet officials, circuit court judges and Supreme Court picks would still have up to 30 hours of debate before a final vote, but lower level picks and District Court judges would have just two hours of debate instead of 30.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has previously said he would oppose the rules change unless concessions were made to Democrats.
Senate Republicans have angered Democrats by repeatedly violating a “blue slip” tradition of only moving forward with judicial nominations when home-state senators sign off on their selection. Democrats also protested vigorously when McConnell and Republicans eliminated the 60-vote threshold for ending filibusters on Supreme Court nominees.