Senate Republicans are considering using the so-called “nuclear option” to change Senate rules over the objection of Democrats to severely limit debate and speed up the confirmation of the vast majority of President Donald Trump’s executive and judicial branch picks.
Republicans are frustrated that Democrats are slow-walking confirmations by maximizing their use of the 30 hours for debate allowed under Senate rules after filibusters of nominees are broken.
“(Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) has proposed this with the support of many of my colleagues,” said Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, in an appearance on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program. “It’s very difficult for a president to advance his or her agenda if you don’t have the right people in place.”
Asked if Republicans were preparing to use the nuclear option, an aide to McConnell said, “Our members are discussing the options.”
McConnell has made confirming judges and other Trump appointees one of his highest priorities, so a rules change would help him more easily meet that objective.
The nuclear option was made famous in 2013 when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, jammed through a rules change that lowered the threshold to break a filibuster of executive branch and most judicial branch nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority. The change was approved on a party-line vote over the protests of Republicans and by bypassing Senate rules that typically require a two-thirds majority for a rules change to be adopted.
In 2017, McConnell used the same technique to lower the filibuster threshold for Supreme Court nominees to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the high court.
While the final contours of the current rules change effort are still being decided, it may mirror a proposal that cleared the Senate Rules Committee last April. That proposed change shrinks the post-filibuster debate time for most executive branch nominees from 30 hours to eight hours and does the same for district court picks from 30 hours to two hours. It does not change the 30 hours of debate time for more significant nominations to the Supreme Court, circuit courts and Cabinet posts. The change would not affect legislation.
Democrats employed similar debate limits when they were last in the majority, ending in 2015, as they pushed through Obama administration nominations. But that rules change – which had bipartisan support – lapsed when that session of Congress ended, which is why Republicans would need to push through the change now.