- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2019

Senate Republicans took the first step Thursday toward triggering the “nuclear option” and cut down on the amount of time Democrats can obstruct presidential nominees.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a test vote next week on a change to Senate rules that would trim the 30 hours of debate allowed on each nominee once a filibuster is defeated.

That vote is expected to fail — and the GOP is then likely to use the nuclear option, a shortcut to change the rules by majority vote.

Mr. McConnell said he’s been forced into the move by Democrats who, he said, have blocked President Trump’s nominees “out of spite.”

“The Senate is going to do something about it,” he said.

The Kentucky Republican didn’t specifically mention the nuclear option on the floor, but did obliquely refer to it, urging Democrats to accept the rules change without having to resort to the more extreme option.

Mr. McConnell told colleagues earlier this month that Republicans have the votes for the nuclear option — though it does not appear any Democrats will back the normal rules change.

Some Democrats have said they agree that the Senate has gotten off track, but said they won’t approve any change that would help Mr. Trump — a standard that Mr. McConnell said is unsustainable.

“Fair is fair,” he said.

Republicans say Democrats have treated Mr. Trump unfairly by any yardstick.

They’ve had to face attempted Democratic filibusters on more than 120 of Mr. Trump’s nominees — easily swamping any previous administration’s total. Once a filibuster is surmounted, the rules call for up to 30 hours of debate to follow.

That means that if the full time is used, a single nominee can take more than a day’s worth of floor time, crowding out any other substantive legislative business.

Multiple times over the last two years the Senate has spent entire weeks approving four or five nominees.

Democrats acknowledge they’re treating Mr. Trump differently, but say it’s deserved because of the quality of his nominees.

The GOP’s rules change would still keep a maximum of 30 hours of debate on major nominees such as Cabinet-level positions, Supreme Court justices and circuit court judges. But other picks would only face a maximum of two hours’ additional debate once a filibuster has been surmounted.

The Senate experimented with a similar rules change in 2013, when Mr. McConnell led Republicans to join Democrats in lowering debate time for President Obama’s nominees. That experiment expired in 2015.

Thirty-five members of the Democratic Caucus who are still in the Senate voted for the change in 2013. Among them was Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is now Democrats’ floor leader.

On Thursday, he accused Mr. McConnell of changing his position to suit his own needs.

“Senator McConnell’s approach has always been to manipulate Senate rules when it helps him and then change Senate rules when the tables turn,” Mr. Schumer said. “This is just another step in his effort to limit the rights of the minority and cede authority to the administration.”

The only member of the Democratic Caucus to oppose the rules change in 2013 was Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent.

Ten Republicans who opposed that 2013 temporary rules change are also still in the Senate.

The nuclear option was used by Democrats in 2013, when they triggered it to reduce the threshold for overcoming a filibuster on most nominees from 60 to only a simple majority. That paved the way for Mr. Obama to stack an important appeals court in Washington, D.C., with his nominees.

GOP senators then used it in 2017, finishing Democrats’ work by applying the majority standard to Supreme Court picks. That paved the way for the confirmation of Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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