- Senate Republicans on Wednesday voted to change the rules for confirming judges and other positions, reducing the required debate time from 30 hours to two.
- Only two Republicans voted against the rule change.
- Senate Republicans have been confirming Trump’s judicial nominees at a breakneck speed for years and now will be able to do so even faster.
WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Wednesday voted 51-48 to change the rules for confirming judicial and other nominees, reducing the required debate time.
The change now allows Republicans to push through President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees at an even faster pace than in the past two years – a key component of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislative agenda.
Only two Republicans voted against the rule change: Mike Lee of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine.
Typically, executive nominees – whether for the Supreme Court or a host of other positions in the federal government that the Senate has to shepherd through and confirm – receive 30 hours of debate on the floor. This debate period can be waved in some cases, but throughout Trump’s presidency, Senate Democrats have used the full 30 hours. Exceptions have been when the Senate minority leader cut a deal with McConnell to push through judges in big waves.
The new rule of two hours for debate applies only to district court nominees and sub-Cabinet nominees. The full 30 hours of debate will still be in effect for Supreme and Circuit Court nominees, as well as nominees to the president’s Cabinet.
But Republicans have grown frustrated with the long process, causing Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and James Lankford of Oklahoma to craft a resolution to slash the required debate time to just two hours.
After the initial vote on Blunt and Lankford’s resolution failed on Tuesday, McConnell used a parliamentary procedure to change the rules on Wednesday. This involved McConnell raising a point of order that there are two hours of postcloture debate, not 30. The chair of the Senate ruled that that’s not correct, prompting a vote to uphold the ruling.
Democrats, along with Lee and Collins, voted to uphold the current rules, while the rest of the Republicans voted “no” to change the rules of the Senate. Sen. Kamala Harris of California did not vote.
Republicans and Democrats going at each other over judicial nominations has reached boiling points before, such as when McConnell canceled the annual August recess last year.
In October, shortly after the long and tumultuous confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cut a deal to confirm a slew of judges in exchange for letting lawmakers depart Washington for the final stretch of the midterm elections cycle.
Senate rules have in the past changed to make confirmations move more swiftly and easily. In 2014, Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader at the time, scrapped the 60-vote threshold for certain nominees by using the “nuclear option,” which allows the majority leader to bypass the filibuster or the 67-vote threshold for Senate rule changes.
While rare, this parliamentary tool has been used by McConnell before. He took it a step further when he removed the filibuster option for Supreme Court nominees and confirmed Neil Gorsuch.
McConnell has set records in judicial confirmations during the past two years, enabled in part because of how long he kept vacancies during the Obama administration. Now McConnell has gone “nuclear” again, changing the rules to usher in more judges and continue his quest to dramatically reshape the federal judiciary in a textualist mould.