- - Thursday, August 31, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With Congress finally returning to work after taking the month of August off, it’s time for Democrats to stop abusing the rules of the Senate to cause gridlock.

For the first 7 months of the Trump Administration, Senate Democrats have systematically and illegitimately held up important judicial and executive branch appointments President Trump was elected to make. And showing a level of cynicism that could only exist in Washington, Democrats are putting up procedural roadblocks in an attempt to create total gridlock and deny the duly elected president the ability to govern - and then attacking President Trump for lack of action.

Facing this kind of extreme duplicity, it’s time for Senate Republicans to take action to end the gridlock and stop the Democrats from denying the American people the services of judges and appointees they elected President Trump to select.

In order to end the gridlock and get Washington working for the American people again, Republicans in the Senate should follow the lead of Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, and reform the Senate rules to limit debate over nominations to 8 hours, down from the 30 hours currently found in the rules of the Senate. Ultimately, what matters is not the number of hours of debate, but the number of votes cast in favor of the confirmation. Can anyone remember the last time a Senate debate actually changed votes? Perhaps they did in the era when the Senate’s rules were written, but in recent years Senate debate is merely an opportunity for Senators to make floor speeches for the benefit of the news media. Reducing the number of hours devoted to debate of each nominee won’t cost anything of substance, and will speed up the confirmation process.

President Trump has more current judicial vacancies than all but one of his five immediate predecessors in the Oval Office. And due to the Senate’s delays in confirming new judges, he actually has more vacancies to fill now than he did on the day he was sworn in. Yet despite having 105 vacancies on the federal bench, President Trump has only had four of his district and circuit judicial appointments approved by the Senate so far in 2017. That’s fewer judicial appointments approved than in the first year of each of President Trump’s five immediate predecessors’ presidencies. For comparison, President Ronald Reagan had 40 district and circuit judicial nominees confirmed in his first year, and President Bill  Clinton had 28 district and circuit court nominees confirmed in year 1 of his presidency. But having named an exceptional Supreme Court Justice in Neil Gorsuch, President Trump is being stymied by Democrats demanding 30 hours of floor debate on every nominee, and, further, abusing the “blue slip” rule to hold up nominees in committee.

The Democrat-enforced gridlock is also having grave effects on President Trump’s ability to staff the executive branch. Despite brief respites from the gridlock — like when Democrats allowed the Senate to function as it has during previous presidencies, and more than 60 nominees were approved by unanimous consent — President Trump is seeing enormous obstruction of his executive appointments. Senior positions at agencies across the capital are unfilled, leaving departments without needed leadership.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is one such agency which needs permanent leadership and new appointments.  The FTC will be critical in implementing President Trump’s agenda of rolling back the regulatory state, and can play a key role protecting intellectual property and patents. However, Acting Republican Chair Maureen Ohlhausen is currently heading an agency stuck in limbo because there is only one other commissioner, an Obama holdover who single handedly is restricting the agency from taking action or rolling back terrible Obama-era policies and lawsuits. Without a working majority, Chair Ohlhausen is left to implement the Obama FTC agenda that she often opposed. The American people desperately need an FTC that will exercise regulatory restraint and use its power to stand up for patent and IP rights, after 8 years of undermining them. Acting Chair Ohlhausen has rightly pointed out that anti-patent and IP rhetoric and policies at the FTC (as well as other agencies) have emboldened regulators across the globe to be hostile to the intellectual property and patent rights of American companies. Change is desperately needed, and recent reports indicate President Trump is getting ready to nominate a new Chair and appoint other members of the commission. Whoever the permanent chair and appointees are, it’s important that they implement the agenda that Chair Ohlhausen has laid out - regulatory humility and a wariness to use FTC actions and rhetoric to undermine intellectual property protection here and across the world.  Republicans must stop the Democrat-enforced gridlock to reverse 8 years of damage to our IP and patent policy.

Democrats should not be allowed to abuse the rules of the Senate for political gain. It’s time for them to put a stop to the cynical games and end the gridlock, so President Trump can implement the agenda the American people elected him to pursue.

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