Senate Republicans threaten key rule change over Dem confirmation obstruction

They said there would be no math. After months of grumbling over the slow process of confirming presidential appointees, and even after a change on “blue slips” for judicial nominees, Senate Republicans want significant rule changes to get Donald Trump’s appointees into office. They have finally — finally — come around to the lengthy debate requirement that promises to delay most of these appointments well into the next decade:

Republicans are renewing their threat to change the Senate’s rules as they eye speeding up the confirmation process for President Trump’s nominees.

GOP senators want to shrink the amount of debate time needed to confirm hundreds of the president’s picks, arguing Democrats are abusing the rules to slow-walk nominees and the GOP agenda.

“I believe it is time to change the rules of the Senate. To change the rules so that President Trump can get his team in place,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who like Barrasso is a member of GOP leadership, added that he was “fully supportive” of changing the rules “if the rules are being abused.”

The proposed change would cut debate time on the final floor vote for each confirmation from 30 hours to eight. That would be a significant change from previous practice, but would also allow the Senate to deal with the large number of appointments that require confirmation in any administration. It’s hard to argue that votes will change on any nominees by the time it gets down to the final vote, and even harder to argue that supporters or opponents need more than eight hours of debate to raise any cogent arguments for or against a nominee. Most of that time exists for grandstanding and posturing, and to run out the clock.

Last month, however, Mitch McConnell declined to make that change for some reason, apparently not taking the math into consideration. As I noted at the time, the federal judiciary alone will have at least 166 openings by the end of the year. Thirty hours of debate for each of these nominations would take over 207 days of 24/7 sessions, assuming the Senate did no other business. If debate was limited to eight hours, that figure drops to 55 days.

This rule change would actually be less disruptive than the others initiated by Harry Reid and McConnell over the last few years. All it would do is reduce the amount of floor time needed to get to a vote that has already been scheduled to take place. It doesn’t impact the rights of the minority or the privileges of the majority. Even the blue-slip change — moving it back to its historical position as an advisory maneuver — had more real impact on blocking nominees.

Notably, Chuck Schumer called out McConnell for hypocrisy:

“Sen. McConnell does not come to the court with clean hands on these issues,” Schumer told reporters. “He delayed and blocked so many of Obama’s nominees.”

True, except that Schumer started this cycle years ago by blocking George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, with Harry Reid’s gleeful participation. It got so bad that John McCain convened the Gang of Fourteen to effect a compromise that benefited Democrats — who then later changed the rules to their (momentary) advantage in 2013 and prevented filibusters on presidential appointments. No one has clean hands on this, but Schumer’s are goopier than everyone else’s still left in the Senate. And even that shouldn’t deter the Senate from improving their efficiency in dealing with presidential appointments.