- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Democrats blocked a GOP effort Tuesday to change Senate rules and speed up confirmation for most of President Trump’s nominees, leaving Republicans with few options other than a nuclear confrontation.

The rules change has become a major test of political wills, with Republicans saying Democrats are treating Mr. Trump unfairly compared to past presidents, forcing his nominees to face lengthy floor debates that limit how many people can be confirmed.

Democrats counter that Mr. Trump’s picks are so bad that they deserve to be obstructed.

They won the first round Tuesday, with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer holding his troops in lockstep to filibuster the changes. The vote was 51-48, leaving Republicans well shy of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster.

Afterward, Republicans seemed resigned to using the nuclear option shortcut to change the understanding of the chamber’s rules.

“This needs to stop, Democrats know it needs to stop. We intend to stop this abuse of the rules this week,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Rules Committee.

Republicans have already set up test votes on several nominees. Any of those could be the nexus for triggering the nuclear option — though GOP aides suggested the final decision hasn’t been made.

The nuclear option involves using a parliamentary maneuver to force through a new interpretation of the rules. The maneuver requires only a majority vote, not the two-thirds needed for a full rules change or the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster on a “standing order,” which is a temporary rules change.

That standing order option is what failed Tuesday.

Republicans’ underlying goal is to speed up the process for confirming Mr. Trump’s picks.

Under a change Democrats forced through in 2013 — using the nuclear option — it takes only a majority vote to overcome filibusters of presidential nominees.

But under the rules, even after a filibuster on a particular nominee is surmounted, senators can demand up to 30 hours more debate.

Democrats have regularly flexed that power over the last two years, forcing the GOP to spend months of floor time on nothing other than tolling the clock to approve nominees.

The rules change would keep a 30-hour clock for the highest-level picks, those serving in Cabinet-level positions or who would get lifetime Supreme Court or circuit court of appeals seats. But other nominees, including district court judges, would get a maximum of two hours’ additional debate.

It’s similar to a change Democrats orchestrated in 2013 for President Obama’s nominees.

But with Mr. Trump in office, Democrats say they’re no longer eager to give up their chance to erect roadblocks.

Mr. Schumer, in an op-ed in Politico, said Mr. Trump’s picks have amassed an “appalling history of incompetence, corruption and venality.”

He cast Democrats’ fight as a stand against bad policy, saying if Mr. Trump would pick more mainstream nominees and fewer conservative ideologues, particularly for the courts, he would have better luck in the Senate.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota singled out Ryan Bounds, a Republican lawyer who cleared a filibuster last summer to be a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But during the ensuing 30 hours of debate, several Republican senators balked at confirming him, dooming him to defeat.

“This change is not just unnecessary, it would allow fundamentally unqualified candidates from judges to administration officials and ambassadors to be confirmed,” said Ms. Klobuchar, a Democratic presidential candidate.

Mr. Bounds’ appeals court nomination would not have been affected by the rules change, which doesn’t apply to appeals court nominees.

Complicating Democrats’ argument is that a number of them have said they would be willing to embrace the rules change in two years, at the start of the next administration. But they don’t want it to apply to Mr. Trump now.

Republicans, meanwhile, are dealing with their own history on nominations.

Democrats are still smarting over Mr. McConnell’s decision to block consideration of Mr. Obama’s final Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016.

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