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Senate votes to change its own rules and slash debate time for some nominees

The Senate has gone "nuclear," voting 51-48 Wednesday afternoon to change its own rules and slash debate time for some nominees from 30 hours to two hours, paving the way to fast-track certain Trump picks. Republicans — led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have long lamented what they have termed Democratic obstruction of the president's nominations, particularly judicial nominations. 

All Republicans vote for the rule change except Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Susan Collins, who voted with Democrats, and no Democrats voted with Republicans. 

McConnell gave an emotion-filled speech before the vote, at some points betraying anger. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the chamber's top Democrat, called it a "sad day in the Senate."

The Senate passed a procedural vote to advance the nomination of Jeffrey Kessler to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce Wednesday afternoon. Following that vote, Senate Republicans made a point of order the debate time on Kessler will be two hours. 

Later in the afternoon, Republicans planned to hold a similar rule change vote on the nomination of Roy Kalman Altman to be District Judge for the Southern District of Florida. Republicans say they have enough votes to pass the simple-majority rule change vote. 

Following the two rule change votes this afternoon the precedent will then be set for post-cloture debate time for all lower tier level nominees and lower court judges to be two hours.  The rule change would not affect Supreme Court nominees, Circuit Judge nominees or Cabinet Secretaries.

The change comes the day after Senate Democrats blocked the Republican effort to change Senate rules to limit the number of hours of debate time. The motion failed 51-48, largely along party lines. It needed to reach a threshold of 60 votes to advance in the Senate.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, argued the Senate needs the rules change to prevent "systematic obstruction" by the Democrats.

"Not targeted, thoughtful opposition to a few marquee nominations or rare circumstances. But a grinding, across-the-board effort to delay and obstruct the people this president puts up," McConnell said on the Senate floor. However, Democrats point out that Republicans blocked judicial nominees during the Obama administration, often for several months or years.

The Senate has inched closer to making the nuclear option apply to all confirmation votes since 2013, when Senate Democrats used the nuclear option to change the number of votes needed to break a filibuster on nominations to a simple majority 51 votes. At the time, the change did not apply to Supreme Court nominees. In April 2017, Republicans changed the rules to include Supreme Court nominations approval by majority vote in an effort to ease the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

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