Frustrated with what he calls Democratic obstruction, President Trump is expected to press Senate Republicans during a lunch Tuesday to change the rules to speed up consideration of his nominees for vacant court seats and executive posts.
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 Saturday.
Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee approved a measure last month to shorten the debate time for nominees on the floor, but the idea doesn’t have Democratic support.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has yet to say whether he will try to implement the change with a controversial party-line vote known as the nuclear option.
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.
“By continuing to highlight and recognize the level of obstruction … it continues to put more pressure on the Senate to address this internally,” Short said.
Conservatives such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) say they want GOP leaders to trigger the nuclear option, whereby Senate rules would be effectively changed with a simple majority vote.
“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.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) used a party-line vote in 2013 to lower the threshold for ending debate on executive branch and most judicial nominees, changing it from 60 votes to a simple majority.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) on Monday said using the nuclear option to speed floor debate on nominees is “a good idea.”
“We need to get it done,” he said of a possible rules change.
Unless the nuclear option is used, Republicans would need 67 votes to change the Senate rules under regular order or 60 votes to issue a permanent standing order, which would have the same effect.
But muscling through the rules change without Democratic support isn’t sitting well with moderate Republicans such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), who aren’t on board with the plan.
Murkowski says debate time for nominees should be shortened only if Democrats agree to change the rules.
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.
Republicans control 51 seats, but with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) away from the Senate indefinitely while he undergoes treatment for brain cancer, they have an effective majority of only 50 seats and could not 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 (S.D.) 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.
The measure passed by the Rules Committee last month would limit that post-cloture time to two hours for district court nominees and to eight hours for most executive branch nominees. It would maintain the 30-hour rule for Supreme Court, circuit court and Cabinet-level nominees.
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.
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 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 concerns over the administration’s trade agenda, which has raised fears of a global trade war.
Some Republicans, such as Cruz, may also use the opportunity to push for another attempt at repealing ObamaCare.
Cruz argued to the Senate GOP conference in a meeting before the May recess that leadership should set up another special budget process known as reconciliation to pass health-care reform with 51 Republican votes.
But like rules reform, health care is an issue that divides the conference.
Murkowski, Collins and other moderates don’t want to plunge into another partisan debate without consensus within the party over how to replace ObamaCare, which gave states billions of dollars to expand health insurance coverage across the country.
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