Senate Republicans invoke nuclear option to limit nomination debate time

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., led the Senate to invoke the nuclear option for the third time in six years. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

April 3 (UPI) — Senate Republicans voted to invoke the so-called nuclear option Wednesday to change rules to reduce debate time on the confirmation process for certain Trump nominees.

The chamber used a simple majority to change the debate time for lower-level judicial and executive nominees from 30 hours to two hours. It normally takes a supermajority, or 60 votes, for a procedural change on such nominees.

All Democrats and two Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah — voted against the change.

The vote was intended to speed the confirmation process for a backlog of lower-level nominees, but leaves the debate time unchanged for Cabinet-level, federal appeals judges and certain other nominations.

Under the new rules, the Senate confirmed Jeffrey Kessler as assistant secretary of commerce. The chamber also was expected to confirm Roy Kalman Altman as a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky threatened to use the nuclear option Tuesday after he was unable to secure a supermajority vote to change the rules.

He accused Democrats of obstructing the confirmation process, even for nominees they eventually end up voting to confirm. He said the delays are a relitigation of the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s been 354 days and counting in Senate purgatory for the president’s nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two-hundred eighty-seven days and counting for the under secretary of state for management. Noncontroversial lower court nominees have languished for weeks and weeks — for no discernible reason — before they, too, were confirmed unanimously,” McConnell wrote in an op-ed posted on his website.

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“These are just a few examples of the historic obstruction Senate Democrats have visited upon President [Donald] Trump’s nominees for two years and counting.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the use of the nuclear option Wednesday “a sad day for the Senate.”

“McConnell brags about confirming more judges than anyone in a long time,” Schumer said on Twitter. “but he wants to invoke the terribly destructive nuclear option to fast-track even more of President Trump’s ultra-conservative nominees.”

Wednesday’s vote was the third time in six years the Senate has used the nuclear option to leap the 60-vote hurdle needed for the confirmation process. In 2013, Senate Democrats — then the majority — voted to limit filibusters so they cannot be used against presidential nominations. At the time, McConnell told Democrats they “may regret” the use of nuclear option “a lot sooner than you think.”

And in 2017, Senate Republicans invoked the nuclear option to prevent Democrats from filibustering the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Changes to the arcane Senate filibuster have been threatened by both parties during contentious nomination fights in the past. The minority party has long leaned on the filibuster as a means of maintaining a foothold in the confirmation process.

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