By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading Republicans in the U.S. Senate, expressing frustration at how slowly President Donald Trump’s nominees are being confirmed, on Tuesday called for changes in the chamber’s procedures to speed up the approval process.
“I believe it is time to change the rules of the Senate,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chair John Barrasso told reporters, saying a way needed to be found to shorten debate times.
Trump has complained bitterly about Senate rules slowing progress on his agenda. But the president has generally focused his criticism on a Senate rule that requires 60 votes for most legislation to advance in the 100-member chamber – the so-called filibuster rule.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Republicans do not want to change the 60-vote requirement for legislation. But McConnell, speaking to reporters after Barrasso on Tuesday, said there may be a way to reduce the time spent on debating judicial and other nominees after they clear an initial hurdle.
Currently that time is capped at 30 hours. Republicans have repeatedly complained that Democrats are using the time allowance to drag out confirmation of Trump’s nominees.
“Due to the Democrats’ obstruction, this administration has had the lowest percentage of nominees confirmed of any administration in the past 30 years,” Barrasso said in a news release. At this point in Democratic then-President Bill Clinton’s term, Clinton had 76 percent of his nominees confirmed, and Democratic then-President Barack Obama had 67 percent, while Trump has had fewer than 40 percent, Barrasso said.
Barrasso suggested the Senate might want to revive a bipartisan agreement from a previous Congress. It allowed debate on Supreme Court nominees and Cabinet members to last up to 30 hours, but other categories of nominees got less: either eight or two hours.
Two other senior Republicans, Senators John Cornyn and Roy Blunt, suggested Republicans could change the rules unilaterally if Democrats are not interested in negotiating a change. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer sidestepped a question on the matter.
“Senator McConnell does not come to the floor with clean hands on these issues. He delayed and blocked so many of Obama’s nominees, in fact many of the judges they’re now filling should have been filled by Obama nominees,” Schumer told reporters.
Earlier this year, McConnell moved to scrap the 60-vote hurdle on Supreme Court nominations to clear the way for confirming Neil Gorsuch to the court. Previously, when Democrats ran the Senate, they ended the 60-vote hurdle on other executive branch nominations.
(reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Alistair Bell)