Senate Resolution Would End Systematic Obstruction on Nominees
‘[L]et’s get the Senate back to the normal, historical pattern for handling presidents’ nominations. Let’s give President Trump as well as all future presidents a functional process for building their administrations. Let’s give the American people the governments they actually elected. And let’s seize this chance to do so through bipartisan regular order that we’re pursuing here, both in committee and now here on the floor. The status quo is unsustainable for the Senate and for the country.'
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:
“I come to the floor to discuss the unprecedented obstruction that has faced President Trump’s nominees for the past 26 months and counting -- and to announce that the Senate is going to do something about it. The systematic, across-the-board delay and obstruction that have crippled this administration’s nominations is unique in American history. Every presidential election since Adams beat Jefferson in 1796 has left some Senators disappointed their side lost. There’s always a losing side, and they’re never happy about it.
“But the past two years have been the first time ever that the unhappy party has used Senate procedure to systematically blockade the new president’s nominees and prevent him from staffing up an administration. Let me say that again. Since January 2017, for the first time in the 230-year history of the United States Senate, a minority of Senators have used Senate procedure to systematically prevent the President of the United States from putting a full team in place.
“During the first two years of the last six presidential administrations before President Trump, 24 total cloture votes had to be held to advance nominations. And in President Trump’s first two years? 128 cloture votes on nominees. For 42 different executive branch positions, cloture votes have been required for the first time ever. Uncontroversial Assistant Secretaries. Agencies’ General Counsels. Never required cloture votes before, ever -- until this particular Democratic minority.
“Or just compare President Trump’s first two years to President Obama’s. Overall, we confirmed 22% fewer nominations for President Trump and sent more than twice as many back to the White House. Take just the Foreign Relations Committee as one example. The share of nominees sent to the Foreign Relations committee who were still not confirmed after President Trump’s first two years was more than three times what it was for President Obama.
“To be clear, the lion’s share of all this is not controversial, high-profile figures. In most cases they are unambiguously well-qualified nominees for critical but lower-profile jobs. For example, it took more than six months and several tragic railroad accidents that made national news before a minority of Senators would allow us to confirm the president’s nominee to head the Federal Railroad Administration. Six months and railroad accidents to get us to confirm the president’s nominee to head the Federal Railroad Administration.
“He’d worked in railroads as an engineer, manager, and executive for 45 years. Our colleagues on the Commerce Committee voice-voted him out of committee. And, actually, when Democrats finally allowed his nomination to come to the floor, he was confirmed here by voice vote. But despite the fact that nobody actually objected to the nominee, this important job was held empty for six long months. Obstruction for obstruction’s sake. It’s the same story with even the least controversial judicial nominees.
“Last January, it took more than a week of floor time to confirm four district judges. All of whom had been voice-voted out of the Judiciary Committee the previous autumn. But still, months of delays. And then cloture votes were required for each. But once we finally plowed through to the confirmation votes, they were all confirmed unanimously. Months of delays and procedural roadblocks for four bipartisan nominees whom not a single Senator actually opposed. Not a principled maneuver. Not thoughtful use of minority powers. Obstruction simply for the sake of obstruction.
“This historic campaign isn’t fair to our duly-elected president. And more importantly, it is not fair to the American people. The American people deserve the government they elected. They deserve for important positions to be promptly filled with capable individuals – not held open indefinitely out of political spite. And from an institutional perspective, as we all acknowledge, this is completely unsustainable. But if we allow it to persist, it seems guaranteed to become standard operating procedure for every administration going forward. Let’s assume two years from now, my side is in the minority and there’s a Democratic president. If we allow this to persist, we’ll be doing the same thing to those guys that they’ve been doing to us. It would be the new norm.
“Some of our colleagues who are leading this systematic obstruction are actually running for president themselves. Well, these tactics will virtually guarantee that any future Democrat administration is subjected to this same paralysis. Everybody will be doing it. Is this how American government is going to work from here on out? Whichever party loses the White House basically prohibits the new president from standing up an administration? We can’t accept this. This just can’t be allowed to continue. We need to restore the Senate to the way it functioned for decades.
“Remember, the idea that nominees would regularly require cloture votes was completely foreign to the Senate until this sad chapter began during President George W. Bush’s Administration in the early 2000s. As of 1968, cloture had never been required for any nomination. As of 1978, it had been required for two. Until 2003, in no Congress had more than 12 cloture motions ever been needed for nominations. But now, again, President Trump’s chosen nominees faced 128 cloture votes during the Congress just past. So this entire conversation is a modern aberration. This hasn’t been going on forever – this is a fairly recent thing. This behavior is new. We need to restore Senate tradition in this area.
“Fortunately, we have a clear roadmap to do just that. In 2013, immediately after President Obama’s re-election, 78 Senators -- including me -- passed a bipartisan standing order to speed up the consideration of many presidential nominees. 78 members of this body passed a standing order to help President Obama speed up the executive calendar. It reduced the post-cloture time for most nominations without touching the Supreme Court, circuit courts, or the highest levels of the executive branch. Essentially everything else got a more streamlined process so nominees could be confirmed more efficiently.
“Again, President Obama had just been inaugurated for the second time days earlier. You better believe Republicans were disappointed we’d lost. But we did not throw a systematic tantrum. Instead, a sizeable number of us came over and joined the Democrats to help the Senate process non-controversial nominations as it had for the vast bulk of the history of the Senate. I was Republican leader in the minority, and still I supported it. We judged it was the right thing to do. So we did it. The standing order passed 78 to 16.
“So today, I am filing cloture on a resolution that takes that bipartisan effort as its blueprint. This resolution from Senator Blunt and Senator Lankford would implement very similar steps and make them a permanent part of the Senate going forward. The Supreme Court, circuit courts, cabinet-level executive positions, and certain independent boards and commissions would not change.
“But for most other nominations – for the hundreds of lower-level nominations that every new president makes – post-cloture debate time would be reduced from 30 hours to 2 hours. This would keep the floor moving. It would facilitate more efficient consent agreements. And most importantly, it would allow the administration — finally, two years into its tenure — to staff numerous important positions that remain unfilled, with nominees who have been languishing.
“This resolution has come up through regular order, through the Rules Committee. And next week, we will vote on it. It deserves the same kind of bipartisan vote that Sen. Schumer and Sen. Reid’s proposal received back during the Obama Administration. I understand that many of my Democratic colleagues have indicated they would be all for this reform as long as it doesn’t go into effect until 2021, when they obviously hope someone else might be in the White House. But they’re reluctant to support it now.
“Give me a break. That is unfair on its face. My Democratic colleagues were more than happy to support a similar proposal in 2013 under President Obama. They whisper in our ears privately that they’d support it now if it took effect in 2021. But they can’t support it now, especially under these unprecedented circumstances, simply because we have a Republican president. So look, fair is fair. Members of this body should only support reforms that they would be ready to support in the minority as they are in the majority. Put another way, if my side is in the minority two years from now, I don’t think this will be unfair – it will not disadvantage us in the wake of a new Democratic president. This is a change the institution needs, a change the institution made already basically with a two-year experiment when President Obama was in office. This is a reform that every member should embrace -- when their party controls the White House and when it does not control the White House.
“So I urge every one of my colleagues -- let’s get the Senate back to the normal, historical pattern for handling presidents’ nominations. Let’s give President Trump as well as all future presidents a functional process for building their administrations. Let’s give the American people the governments they actually elected. And let’s seize this chance to do so through bipartisan regular order that we’re pursuing here, both in committee and now here on the floor. The status quo is unsustainable for the Senate and for the country. It is unfair to this president and to future presidents of either party. It cannot stand -- and it will not stand.”