Senate Republicans, frustrated at Democratic stalling tactics on President Trump's appointments, on Thursday proposed changing Senate rules to significantly shorten debate time on most nominees. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he's making the move in response to "unprecedented obstruction" by Democrats, which have required Republicans to hold time-consuming procedural votes on 128 of Trump's nominees.
The Kentucky Republican set up a vote next week on a rules change that would limit debate on most nominees to two hours instead of the 30 hours now required. Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court nominations, and appeals court judges would be exempted from the new rules.
McConnell said Democrats have dragged out debates on even routine nominations, burning up the Senate's time and delaying confirmation of scores of Trump appointees. He noted that similar rules were easily — but temporarily — voted into place for the most recent two years of Democratic control of the Senate and warned that continued obstruction would hamper a future Democratic administration as well.
"Is this how American government is supposed to work from here on out?" asked McConnell. "Whichever party loses the White House basically prohibits the new president from standing up an administration?"
To implement the change involves a power play by McConnell, who plans on using an arcane procedural move to power the new rules past a Democratic filibuster.
"Senator McConnell's approach has always been to manipulate Senate rules when it helps him and then change Senate rules when the tables turn," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York. "This is just another step in his effort to limit the rights of the minority and cede authority to the administration."
Senate rules permit any individual senator to force a procedural vote — called cloture — to cut off a filibuster. Invoking cloture normally requires 60 votes. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat from Nevada, moved to effectively eliminate filibusters on most judicial nominees and those named to sub-cabinet posts. In 2017, Republicans lowered the filibuster threshold for Supreme Court posts as well.
But previous rules changes left is place a 30-hour rule for post-cloture debate, which has required McConnell to tie up the Senate floor at length to process Mr. Trump's picks.
"The American people deserve the government they elected. They deserve for important positions to be promptly filled with capable individuals — not held open indefinitely out of political spite," McConnell said.
Some Democrats want to scrap the filibuster on legislation, as well, as a means to permit a potential Democratic president to have more success if the party can retake the Senate. But inside the Senate there isn't much appetite for the idea.