There are currently almost 150 of President Trump’s judicial nominees awaiting confirmation (you can see a full list of them here) and while some progress has been made in clearing the backlog, Republicans are looking to speed up the process. With Democrats running out the clock for a full thirty hours of post-cloture debate and delay on what used to be a fairly normal, non-controversial process, the system has turned into a procedural quagmire. With that in mind, some members are pushing for another rendition of the nuclear option, shortening the debate time for judicial nominees below the appellate level and executive branch nominees below the cabinet level. If approved, a simple majority vote would allow the process to be completed. (The Hill)
A group of Republican senators wants to press the button on a new “nuclear option” that would limit debate time on President Trumps nominees.
The controversial move would hasten the pace of the president’s nominees getting confirmed and curtail Democratic power in the upper chamber.
Senate leaders have twice used the nuclear option to facilitate action on nominees in recent years.
In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stripped the minority of the power to filibuster executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court.
We’re already seeing the usual rounds of finger-pointing and somber regret over the lack of comity in the upper chamber. That’s happened every time these rules have been changed, starting when Harry Reid first invoked the nuclear option in 2013. The only difference in each case was the party doing the moaning, based on who was in the minority at the time. Of course, the goal posts have been pushed back further and further since then.
There was a time when that argument made a lot of sense. Allowing the Senate to be a more deliberative body than the House was an idea baked into the cake from the early days of the nation. But there was also more actual deliberation in the past. The erosion of goodwill between the parties has basically eliminated the entire concept of deliberation since the two competing parties have mostly evolved into warring camps who arrive at every debate with a preconceived notion of how they will vote no matter what information is revealed on the floor.
With that in mind, is it really worth having all of this mandatory debate time if no positions will be changed? Perhaps not, but some sort of gentleman’s agreement could still be reached to avoid yet another nuclear option. (Apologies to anyone triggered by the phrase “gentleman’s agreement.”) Prior to the original nuclear option (and in some cases, even after it was implemented), there was a period when both parties agreed to limit debate time for executive nominees below cabinet level to eight hours. District court nominations only received two hours of debate, while appellate and Supreme Court nominations, along with cabinet posts retained the full 30 hours of debate time. Couldn’t something like that still work today?
Sadly, I’m guessing that we already know the answer to that question and it’s probably a non-starter. Anything viewed as a “success” for Trump, even if it’s the most non-controversial circuit court judge, will be bitterly opposed by the #RESIST movement. And the way things are going, the next Democratic president should expect nothing less from the GOP. It seems to be the way of the world now, so we may as well light this candle and do away with high cloture barriers entirely. If not, the Democrats will just do it anyway next time the shoe is on the other foot.