Let’s Do the Right Thing for the Senate

‘Let’s show the country that partisanship has not poisoned absolutely everything. Let’s demonstrate that the United States Senate can still take a modest step to improve its own workings, on a strong bipartisan vote and do it through the regular order. We did it in 2013 when the roles were reversed. We should do it again this week.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding a resolution to reduce the amount of post-cloture debate time required for sub-cabinet level nominees and lower court judges:

“Now, on another matter, 217 days. That’s how long elapsed between President Trump sending the Senate his nomination for a Federal Railroad Administrator and this body confirming him. For 217 days, a 45-year veteran of the railroads with unquestioned expertise sat and sat on the Senate calendar. He wasn’t controversial. He’d been voice voted out of committee. The kind of nominee where even the prospect of having to file cloture should have been laughable.

“But my Democratic colleagues wouldn’t let him get a vote. Finally, after about seven months and several high-profile railway accidents, our colleagues across the aisle finally relented and let this nominee go forward. And after all those months of obstruction, not a single one of them ended up recording a vote against him. No one voted against him. 217 days for an unquestionably qualified nominee for a seriously important job whom literally nobody really opposed.

“Call it a case study in the Senate’s dysfunction when it’s come to President Trump’s nominees. If anything, the case study actually is not extreme enough, because at least this person was eventually confirmed without a completely pointless cloture vote, followed by even more time supposedly ‘debating’ a nominee on whom Senators do not actually disagree. Perhaps more illustrative might be the cases of unobjectionable district court nominees whose nominations were slow-walked through months of idle time, only to receive unanimous support when it finally came time for confirmation votes.

“Last January, four such nominations came before the Senate. Each was noncontroversial. Each was well-qualified. Each, nevertheless, required a cloture vote. And yet, after weeks on the calendar, each passed without drawing a single ‘no’ vote. No one opposed him, and yet it took a week. Those were four of the historic 128 cloture votes on nominations we had to hold on nominations in this administration’s first two years. 128. That is comprehensive, across-the-board heel-dragging like nothing this body has seen before. It’s more than five times – five times -- as many cloture votes on nominations as in the comparative periods for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama combined.

“In other words, systematic obstruction. Not targeted, thoughtful opposition to a few marquee nominations or rare circumstances. But a grinding, across-the-board effort to delay and obstruct the people this president puts up. Even if they have unquestionable qualifications. Even if the job is relatively low-profile. As I said last week, I’m sure every presidential election this side of George Washington has left some senators unhappy with the outcome. But never before, to my knowledge, has the unhappy group so comprehensively tried to stop a new president from assembling the basics of an administration.

“Hundreds and hundreds of days in ‘Senate purgatory’ for uncontroversial nominees to mid-level posts. Months of delay for lower court nominees who go on to unanimous confirmation votes. This behavior is novel. It’s a break from Senate tradition. And it is something this body needs to address -- not just for the sake of this president, but for future presidencies of any party. Because at this rate, the Senate is flirting with a dangerous new norm. Today it may be Senate Democrats who are intent on endlessly re-litigating the 2016 election and holding up all these qualified people. But absent a change, these tactics seem guaranteed to become standard practice for Senate minorities on both sides.

“I don’t think any of us want that future. We need to stop things from deteriorating further. We need to fix this. We need to let this president assemble his team and let the American people have the government they voted for. And we need to turn back toward the Senate’s institutional tradition in this vital area, for the sake of the nation’s future. My Republican colleagues and I joined with Democrats in 2013 and supported the same sort of modest changes to our nominations process through the same sort of standing order.

“Were we overjoyed that President Obama had won re-election? No, but we still thought he deserved to stand up a government. So a big, bipartisan majority – I voted for it -- the leaders of both parties, agreed to trim the post-cloture time on lower-level nominees. I was the Minority Leader, there was a Democratic president, I voted for it. Supreme Court nominations weren’t touched, nor circuit courts, nor top executive branch posts. But for district court judges and lower-level executive jobs, even as Republicans were in the minority, many of us agreed to test out an abbreviated process for President Obama’s nominees.

“The process that we agreed to then is very similar to the resolution the Senate will vote on later today. As I’ve discussed, Senators Blunt and Lankford have proposed a similar set of changes to fix the current mess that would also become permanent going forward. Their resolution would make the Senate more functional and more consistent. The rules that were good enough for President Obama’s second term would also apply under President Trump -- and every other president going forward. I’d submit to my colleagues: A modest reform like this is either a good idea or it isn’t. The answer can’t flip-flop back and forth depending on which party occupies the White House.

“So I’ll conclude this way: I believe that every one of my colleagues knows our present situation is unhealthy for this body and for any administration. I believe every member of this body knows the precedent that is being set is unsustainable. So I would urge all my colleagues, on both sides -- why don’t we do the right thing for the Senate? Let’s show the country that partisanship has not poisoned absolutely everything. Let’s demonstrate that the United States Senate can still take a modest step to improve its own workings, on a strong bipartisan vote and do it through the regular order. We did it in 2013 when the roles were reversed. We should do it again this week.”

Related Issues: Senate Democrats, Nominations, Judicial Nominations, Restoring the Senate