The Senate voted largely along party lines to change its debate rules — a move that will speed up the confirmation process for some lower-level judicial and agency nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a complex procedural maneuver, known as the nuclear option, to cut debate for lower-level nominees from 30 hours to 2 hours. The change does not apply to cabinet-level nominees, federal appeals judges, members of some boards and commissions or the Supreme Court. It also does not change the 60 vote requirement to advance legislation.
All Senate Democrats opposed the move, and they were joined by 2 Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah.
McConnell said the change is necessary to prevent obstruction from Democrats who have demanded lengthy debate on a number of nominees. He blamed Democrats for dragging their feet on a variety of non-controversial candidates simply because they were nominated by President Donald Trump.
“It is time for this sorry chapter to end,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “It is time to return this body to a more normal and reasonable process for fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities no matter which party controls the White House.”
But Democrats insist changing the rules brings the Senate one step closer to eliminating the filibuster, a key tool for protecting the rights of the minority party in the Senate. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest serving Democrat in the Senate, said Republicans are stripping rank-and-file members of both parties of a much needed opportunity to vet nominees before they come to the floor for a vote.
“It is an erosion of the Senate’s responsibility,” Leahy said. “It is a removal of one of the last guardrails for quality and bipartisanship win the nominations process. It is a short-sighted partisan power grab.”