Republicans are pushing nominees through the Senate at the fastest pace since President Trump took office, using newfound flexibility they gained after triggering the nuclear option in April to limit Democrats’ ability to obstruct.
Senators processed nearly 90 contested nominees over the last few months, which is at least 50% more than they could have done before the nuclear option, which sped up the debate time for most judicial and executive branch nominees.
The speed is a major win for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and conservatives, who have used the faster process to install 59 federal judges since April 3.
“We have obviously increased speed. We are getting more through, but we still shouldn’t need cloture votes for so many of these,” said Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who helped orchestrate the change in the nuclear option rules.
Republicans said they felt compelled to act after Democrats attempted to filibuster more than 120 nominees in Mr. Trump’s first two years in office, forcing Republicans to hold “cloture” votes to surmount filibusters.
Their move slashed the maximum amount of debate time allowed on most presidential nominees from 30 hours down to two hours. That means the Senate can process up to 15 district judges or sub-Cabinet executive branch positions in the time it used to take to confirm one.
In the 12 weeks the Senate has been in session since the change, it has cleared 88 nominees who faced attempted filibusters. That’s in addition to passing several major spending bills and the annual defense policy bill.
Before the change, if the Senate had spent full time on nominees without any other major business, it might have cleared about 60 presidential picks during the same time.
Mr. Lankford said Democrats are still erecting unnecessary hurdles.
Martha Pacold, for example, was confirmed this week to a judge’s post in the Northern District of Illinois by a vote of 87-3. James Hendrix was also confirmed to the Northern District of Texas by 89-1.
Similar lopsided supermajority votes have occurred nearly three dozen times this year, a Senate GOP aide said.
“They are trying to slow down every single nominee to be able to slow the process down,” Mr. Lankford complained. “That’s not going to help us long term. If we want to get the Senate back to working, period, regardless of who is president, this is not the path to do it.”
Liberal advocates said the nuclear option has sped up Republicans’ ability to install conservative federal judges, with this week’s action bringing the total to 144 since Mr. Trump took office.
At the same point in President Obama’s tenure, he had 95.
“Republicans are counting on these judges to dismantle reproductive rights, marriage equality and the separation of church and state — and also to shred the New Deal and regulations that protect people from corporate power,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president for People for the American Way, a leading progressive group.
Using the nuclear option on nominees was pioneered by Democrats, who used it in 2013 to lower the threshold for confirming most nominees. The 60-vote mark was cut to a majority vote, defanging the minority party’s ability to obstruct a president’s picks.
Democrats left Supreme Court nominees untouched by the 2013 change, but Republicans used the nuclear option in 2017 to extend the lower filibuster threshold to the high court, helping install Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and then Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Mr. McConnell then used the move again this year to cut the debate times — though he left the 30-hour clock in place for circuit court and Supreme Court nominees and Cabinet-level posts.
Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, said Republicans did what they had to do to fight back.
“What they did was somewhat measured. They had the votes to change the rules for circuit court nominees too and they didn’t,” Mr. Levey said.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said the “vast rush” by Republicans to speed up the process has done damage.
“The effect on the credibility and legitimacy of these judges is very, very unfortunate. The Senate has broken all the norms and shattered the rules, which effects credibility and trust of the American public,” he said.
• Alex Swoyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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