WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans failed Tuesday to change the rules to make it easier to confirm most of President Donald Trump’s nominees.
Senators voted 51-48 on a resolution to reduce the amount of time they spend debating most nominees ― district court judges and lower-level executive nominees ― from 30 to two hours. Every Republican but one, Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), voted for the resolution. Every Democrat opposed it. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was absent.
But because the resolution needed 60 votes to move forward, it failed, as expected. Now it’s on to round two: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to use the so-called “nuclear option” to make the rule change with a simple majority, or 51 votes.
McConnell will begin that process as soon as Wednesday, per his spokesman.
Ahead of the vote, Republicans complained about Democrats delaying votes on too many of Trump’s nominees and said the rule change is warranted.
“This behavior is novel,” said McConnell. “It’s a break from Senate tradition.”
“We should respect each other,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “No one can lock up the body and demand 30 hours of time” on a nominee if they don’t use all of that time, he said.
These are the same Republicans, of course, who made the unprecedented decision in 2016 to deny a hearing and a vote to President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. These are also the same Republicans who routinely denied Obama votes on lots of his other judicial nominees to hold those court seats open for a future GOP president to fill.
In fact, McConnell was so Machiavellian about denying Obama the ability to confirm judges that he led Republicans in blocking their own nominees and fueled a vacancy crisis on the federal courts.
HuffPost asked Republicans how they justified changing the rules to make it easier to confirm Trump’s judges when they used those same rules to prevent Obama from confirming his.
“The reason is that this is the first time in U.S. history we’ve had this historic obstruction and abuse of the 30-hour debate rule,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), apparently unaware of his party’s routine abuse of that rule under Obama.
“The Democrats have been more than just obstructionist. They’ve almost paralyzed government,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), apparently unaware of his party driving up the number of federal judicial emergencies under Obama.
Some blamed Democrats for changing the rules first in 2013, when they controlled the Senate and got rid of the filibuster for most judicial nominees.
“The difference is we’re in control of the Senate and they’re not,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
But Democrats changed the rules in response to McConnell abusing parliamentary procedures to delay and block Obama’s judicial nominees for years, many of whom Republicans actually supported and voted for after blocking them.
The reason McConnell wants to make it easier to confirm Trump’s district judges is because he’s already made it easier to confirm all of Trump’s other judicial nominees. He used the nuclear option to lower the vote threshold for confirming Trump’s Supreme Court picks from 60 to a simple majority. He’s endorsed repeated violations of the “blue slip” rule for circuit court nominees, a Senate tradition of only moving forward with a judicial nominee when both home state senators sign off on it.
It’s all part of McConnell’s plan to use Trump’s presidency to put piles of young, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-voting rights ideologues into lifetime federal court seats before Trump is up for re-election in 2020.
The difference is we’re in control of the Senate and they’re not.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Republicans have already confirmed 37 circuit judges during the Trump presidency, more than any president has gotten through by this point in his first term. That’s so many circuit judges that 1 in 5 seats on circuit courts are now filled by a judge nominated by Trump.
If Republicans succeed in changing the Senate rules this week, they could fill most of the 129 empty district court seats during Trump’s first term, leaving few to fill after 2020, when a Democrat might be in the White House.
“It is a short-sighted, partisan power grab,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “It will set us further back and will further polarize the United States Senate, what is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body.”