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GOP senators eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees

The Hill logo The Hill 6 days ago Jordain Carney

Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, John Thune are posing for a picture: GOP senators eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees © Greg Nash - UPI Photo GOP senators eye 'nuclear' move to change rules on Trump nominees Senate Republicans are preparing to change the rules to cut down on the time it takes to confirm hundreds of President Trump's nominees later this month.

GOP senators said Monday that they expect the rules change proposal will come up this month as the caucus mulls deploying the "nuclear option" to force the measure through with only a simple majority instead of 60 votes.

"Sometime this month," Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, asked about a timeline for the rules change as he headed into a weekly meeting in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a member of GOP leadership, said he expected the the rules change proposal to be brought to the floor "pretty soon."

"Maybe when we come back from the recess," he said, asked if his previous estimation of within weeks was still on schedule.

If Republicans are going to bring up the rules change in March, that leaves them a matter of days to clear the overhaul, which would impact the amount of time it takes to confirm district judge nominees and hundreds of executive picks.

The Senate is expected to leave town on Thursday for a week-long recess and return to Washington on March 25. This week's schedule is packed with circuit court nominations as well as a vote on a resolution of disapproval on Trump's emergency declaration. Republicans are instead eyeing the week they return.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn't tipped his hand on when he would schedule the rules change.

The tight-lipped GOP leader signaled during a press conference last week that he was still hoping for a bipartisan deal that could get 60 votes, but suggested he was prepared for Republicans to go it alone if necessary.

"We're still hoping to have bipartisan support to go forward with the standing order, which would require 60 votes. In the absence of that, it is still my desire to try to achieve that, and that's ... a discussion will have among Republicans," McConnell told reporters.

He added that Republicans have "had a number of discussions about the level of obstructionism."

The rules change, spearheaded by Blunt and GOP Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), would reduce the amount of debate time required for district court judges and hundreds of executive nominees once they've shown they can break a filibuster and have the support needed to be confirmed.

Currently nominees face up to an additional 30 hours of debate after the initial procedural hurdle. Under the rules change resolution that would be reduced down to two hours for district court judges and most executive nominees.

The 30-hour requirement would remain in tact for Supreme Court nominees, circuit court nominees, Cabinet picks and roughly a dozen board nominations.

Republicans are likely to have to go nuclear if they want to force through the rules change.

Lankford has said that he would like to implement the change with 60 votes, but no Democrats have said they will support his measure.

Republicans introduced a similar resolution during the previous Congress, but their narrow 51-seat margin left them unable to force through the change without help from Democrats. After the 2018 election they grew their majority to 53 seats, giving them more breathing room to get through the change.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is retiring at the end of the current Congress, warned late last month that Republicans would force through the rules change on their own if they couldn't get bipartisan support.

Alexander predicated at the time that if Democrats don't signal that they'll work out a deal that he doesn't think McConnell "sees any reason to delay" implementing the rules change with only GOP votes.

The resolution is similar to a rules change implemented in 2013 when Democrats controlled the Senate. Under that proposal, district court judges dropped to two hours and most executive nominees dropped to eight hours. But that deal, which passed with bipartisan support, only governed the 113th Congress.

Democrats argue that the climate on Capitol Hill has soured since then because of the nixing of the 60-vote filibuster for judicial nominations.

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