WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats blocked a GOP attempt on Tuesday to change Senate rules to limit debate time on most of President Donald Trump’s nominees to just a couple of hours.
The party-line vote is another step toward a potential power play by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is considering ramming the rules change through later this week using an arcane parliamentary maneuver.
The proposed rules change would limit debate on most nominees to two hours instead of the 30 hours now required. Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court nominations, and appeals court judges would be exempted from the new rules.
Tuesday’s approach required 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, but McConnell’s upcoming maneuver would only require a simple majority.
McConnell said Tuesday he’s taking action in response to “systematic obstruction, not targeted, thoughtful opposition to a few marquee nominations or rare circumstances, but a grinding, across-the-board effort to delay and obstruct the people this president puts up.”
Democrats said Republicans abused the old rules — which required a 60-vote margin to break a filibuster for all nominees — to thwart dozens of nominees of former President Barack Obama. Democrats changed the filibuster threshold to a simple majority in 2013 over outraged protests by Republicans such as McConnell.
Shortening the debate time, they maintain, would allow Republicans to run roughshod over them. The hurdles and hoops required to win confirmation should be difficult, they say, as a means to ensure nominees are ethical and qualified and responsive to requests by senators for information.
“The purpose of these rules is to reject partisanship so that we can get nominees who will put the good of the country before politics,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “If we eliminate this crucial check on our democracy, allowing the majority to ram through these appointments, we will undermine our democracy and our government.”
Republicans counter that it is Democrats who are abusing the process now by claiming the full 30 hours of debate time for noncontroversial picks. Often, the Senate chamber sits empty as the clock ticks on these picks. And Obama benefited from abbreviated debate times for most nominations under a temporary arrangement over 2013-14 that suited Democrats just fine back then.