Posted by Curt on 11 April, 2018 at 5:51 pm. 3 comments already!


It’s not the rule change Donald Trump wants, but it might be more effective. Having allowed Senate Democrats to slow and obstruct confirmation of presidential nominees for more than a year, Senate Republicans came out of a caucus meeting hinting that changes are afoot:

Senate Republicans, frustrated by delaying tactics imposed by Democrats on President Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, are on the verge of altering the Senate rules in order to speed up the process.

GOP lawmakers told the Washington Examiner Tuesday that momentum is building for a change in the Senate rules that would shorten the time frame allowed for lawmakers to debate each nominee.

One proposal by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., would reinstate a temporary rules change made by Democrats in 2013 that reduced debate time from 30 hours to eight hours for most executive branch nominations and from 30 hours to two hours for lower judicial branch nominations.

Republicans have talked about these rule changes for months. Mitch McConnell was reportedly ready to act last fall, only to back away after Chuck Schumer accused him of coming to the debate with “unclean hands.”  That has to qualify as one of the least self-reflective statements ever, of course, and McConnell’s retreat did nothing to incentivize Democrats to end their stalling routines. 

They seem to be preparing another such strategy for Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as Secretary of State, although they may not need it:

President Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pompeo as his second Secretary of State needs Democratic support for confirmation — but Democrats who voted for Pompeo last year to be CIA chief are not yet ready to back him again.

With Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., opposed and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., out battling cancer, Trump needs a few Democrats to get the former Kansas congressman confirmed. The Senate has 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director, 66 to 32, with 14 Democrats voting for him. But even four Democrats who backed Pompeo for the CIA in January 2017, and face challenging re-election contests in Trump friendly states, won’t commit to voting for the nominee this time.

Democrats, especially those in red states, are under pressure from progressive groups to block Pompeo’s confirmation. That puts them in a tight squeeze for this November. Senators like Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp can’t afford to alienate any of the Democratic constituencies, but also can’t afford to look too reflexively anti-Trump in states where Trump won big, either. The best option for them would be to stall a confirmation vote indefinitely, or to get it over with quickly well before the midterm season really starts heating up. Don’t bet on the latter, although in the long run it might be the smartest strategy.

So other than simple inertia and avoidance of risky action, what’s holding Republicans back from this rule change? In today’s environment, there is little to be learned about a nominee in the difference between thirty hours and eight hours of debate, even if the debate time was used to generate more information for a confirmation vote, which is hardly the case. Even two hours is plenty of time for both sides to sum up their objections or support for each nominee when it comes time for a floor vote.

Insisting on thirty hours of debate on each confirmation makes it almost impossible to govern. Just in terms of openings in the federal courts, I did the math last October, and the numbers are daunting:

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