Senate GOP ponders a rules change that could cement the president's legacy

  • 28 January 2019
  • NormanL

Senate Democrats may be in the minority, but they still have tools and means to slow down, if not outright thwart, presidential cabinet nominees. Republicans are out to change that, by changing the Senate's rules:

The GOP is planning to make a significant change to cut debate time on some lower-level nominees and accelerate confirmation of Trump's judicial and executive branch picks, and Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said his committee will likely take up the measure sometime before the end of March. He hopes to work with Democrats on a bipartisan change, but Republicans are also prepared to use the "nuclear option" and act unilaterally if they can't get buy-in from Democrats.

"We're going to deal with this issue, I think. We're going to try it [bipartisan] and I think our Republican members would want to see an effort ... and we would want that to be a genuine effort. So let's see," Blunt said in an interview on Monday. "It's clear that if we don't change this, some Democrat president in the future is going to deal with exactly what President Trump and the Republican Senate has had to deal with."

The rules change could have effects extending well beyond lower level cabinet nominees:

The change would likely shave debate time for sub-cabinet and District Court nominees, though no final decision has been made. Under current rules, any one senator can demand as much as 30 hours of debate time for each nominee. And since the Congress is now split between a Democratic House and GOP Senate, the Senate Republicans are already signaling they will expend much of their energy on nominations given the ideological clash on legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's top priority is installation of lifetime judgeships, and a change to the rules could have a dramatic effect on how quickly he can fill the 121 District Court vacancies. Last year, Republicans essentially ran out of time to confirm more judges in the lame duck, and a rules change could help make up ground.

Judges are the real goal, and the biggest prize. The president has already put his mark on the judiciary. If the Senate approves an additional 120 or more of his nominees in the next two years, then the courts, more than any else, may be Donald Trump's lasting White House legacy.