The Senate ponders a nuclear option

  • 4 April 2019
  • NormanL

Senate Republicans have had enormous success in getting the president's judicial nominees through the conformation process, and on to the federal bench. But that doesn't mean there aren't still a number of ways Demcorats can slow down, and sometimes completely derail, nominees. In response, the GOP is considering streamlining Senate rules to accelerate the process:

Republicans want to accelerate the chamber’s ability to confirm nominees to district courts and most positions in the executive branch. The rules change reduces the amount of time the Senate takes to consider these nominees after cloture to two hours, down from 30 hours. Nominations to appellate courts, the Supreme Court, and cabinet-level positions are exempt from the proposed change.

Democrats have labeled the change a power grab, while Republicans argue that Democrats have abused the body’s rules to slow deliberations in the chamber and prevent President Trump from filling out his administration.

There's more to it than this -- including a bit of history, and a so-called "nuclear option":

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who has made confirming conservative judges a priority, took the first step on Thursday toward bringing the rules change up for a vote. He said that Republicans would deploy the same tactics to slow the confirmation of Democratic nominees under a Democratic president.

“Let’s assume two years from now, my side is in the minority and there’s a Democratic president. If we allow this to persist, we’ll be doing the same thing to those guys that they’ve been doing to us. It would be the new norm,” he said.

Under regular Senate rules, 60 members would need to support procedural steps to advance to the legislation. But in the face of total Democratic opposition, Republicans may invoke the so-called “nuclear option” and pass the rules change with a simple majority. The GOP caucus enjoys a 53-47 majority in the chamber.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), the chairman of the Rules Committee, said he is hoping to strike an agreement with Democrats to pass the rules change without resorting to the nuclear option.

“We’ve had slightly more interest in the last week,” Mr. Blunt said. “That’s what I always thought would be the case—that once we knew we could do this without them, then that would be the likely time that they would try and pursue a discussion.”

While it is somewhat regrettable to see the Senate become more like the House, decades of partisan games have brought us to this point. If Sen. McConnell wants to finish the task of putting conservatives on federal courts, he may have no choice but to push the nuclear button.