Mitch McConnell moving toward "nuclear option" to approve Trump's judges even faster

Senate Majority Leader may ditch filibuster rules to allow Trump to push through more nominees with no scrutiny

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published March 30, 2019 6:00AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell (AP/Salon)
Mitch McConnell (AP/Salon)

Senate Republicans are threatening to use the "nuclear option' in order to speed through President Donald Trump’s judicial and executive nominees 15 times faster.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing a resolution that would change the Senate rules to speed through more of Trump’s District Court nominees and sub-cabinet nominees. But Republicans would likely need to drastically change the filibuster rules to get it approved.

McConnell’s push comes after the Senate Rules Committee in February voted to limit debate time for Trump’s sub-cabinet and District Court nominees to two hours after procedural votes, The Hill reported. The current debate time is 30 hours.

In a Senate floor speech Thursday, McConnell claimed that the move was necessary because of “unprecedented obstruction” by Democrats. The speech came after Trump insisted to McConnell in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that he wanted his nominees approved faster, Politico reported.

“A minority of senators have used Senate procedure to systematically prevent the president of the United States from putting a full team in place,” McConnell said Thursday. “The American people deserve the government they elected.”

The majority leader claimed that the rule change would also benefit Democrats because the current rules would subject future Democratic administrations to “the same paralysis.”

After his speech, McConnell likened his resolution to former Democratic leader Harry Reid’s order that sped up the process for approving President Obama’s District Court judges and sub-cabinet nominees. Reid effectively eliminated most filibusters for these nominees but left in place the 30-hour post-cloture debate rule.

“A number of members on the other side have said they’d be more than happy to support it provided it took effect two years from now, so they know it’s not an unreasonable proposal,” McConnell told Politico.

But the resolution needs 60 votes to pass and Democrats are far from eager to go along with a plan that would let Trump speed through the 128 District Court and sub-cabinet nominees currently pending in the Senate.

Senate Republicans say that they are ready to invoke the nuclear option to scrap the filibuster and rewrite the Senate rules with a simple majority vote, The Hill reported.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blasted the move, accusing McConnell of trampling longstanding Senate rules to appease the Trump administration.

"Sen. McConnell's approach has always been to manipulate Senate rules when it helps him and then change Senate rules when the tables turn," the New York Democrat said in a statement. "This is just another step in his effort to limit the rights of the minority and cede authority to the administration."

McConnell’s complaints are especially rich given that Reid only changed the rules to get around the obstruction led by McConnell. McConnell slowed judicial confirmations down to the slowest level in 60 years, Politico reported at the time. The Senate confirmed just 20 district and circuit court judges in Obama’s last two years in office despite dozens of unfilled positions, while the Democratic-led Senate in the final two years of the George W. Bush administration confirmed 68 federal judges. And after stopping Obama from filling the many vacant seats, McConnell denied any hearing whatever for Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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