The Senate’s Nuclear War over Confirmations

President Trump may be halfway through his first term, but he still has jobs to fill. Unfortunately for him, hiring hasn’t exactly been the easiest thing in a Senate full of Democrats desperately trying to run out the clock on his presidency.

It’s not a new problem, but it’s certainly an exacerbating one. Presidents throughout modern history have had to deal with the minority party’s shenanigans to confirm everyone from U.S. ambassadors to executive branch bureaucrats. As usual, though, Donald Trump seems to bring out the worst in liberals, who’ve been engaged in record-setting obstruction to stop the White House from getting its personnel in place. “If we don’t stop this behavior now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned, “it will become the norm.”

Apart from the lightning-fast pace of judicial nominees, Senate Republicans have had a devil of a time getting lower-rung nominees through Senator Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) party. Even after a cloture vote, Democrats have been forcing another 30 hours of debate on the chamber for every nominee — not because it affected the outcome, but because it made the process as painful as possible for Republicans. By prolonging the vote, Democrats had the satisfaction of watching the GOP business grind to a halt.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) were tired of the games and wanted to cut down the debate to just two hours, especially since the chamber would have already voted on whether or not to proceed with a name. “Just imagine if Democrats’ behavior over the past two years becomes the norm,” Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters. “Presidents could be waiting years to adequately staff their administrations, and the Senate would be perpetually tied up on unnecessary cloture votes, leaving less and less ti[m]e to actually do the business of governing.”

What’s been especially frustrating, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pointed out, is that these delays have nothing to do with the nominees themselves. They’re just a protest vote against the president. “Over the past two years, some in this body have decided that they will oppose any nominee suggested by President Trump,” he argued.

On Wednesday, McConnell used what some call the “nuclear option” to change the Senate precedent. By a vote of 51-48, Republicans agreed to pick up the pace on Trump’s hires on everyone but cabinet, Supreme Court, and circuit court nominees. From now on, Democrats will only be able to slow things down for two extra hours — not 30. But not every Republican was a fan of the idea, as Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.) made quite clear. The Senate, Lee argued, needs “to serve its deliberative function in our constitutional system… The current rules can work for the American people; they simply require us to do the same.”

For all of the worries that this will come back to bite Republicans, McConnell seemed well aware of the risks. Still, he said, this is about making the environment better for everyone. “… [A]bsent a change, these [delaying] tactics seem guaranteed to become standard practice for Senate minorities on both sides. I don’t think any of us want that in the future.”

Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


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EDITORS NOTE: This FRC column is republished with permission.

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