Senate Democrats blocked a Republican effort to change Senate rules to limit the number of hours of debate time on nominations, making it easier for lower-tier judicial and executive branch nominees to be confirmed. The resolution would have dropped floor debate time to two hours, down from the current 30 hours of debate allowed between the vote to advance the nomination and the full floor vote.
The motion failed 51-48, largely along party lines. It needed to reach a threshold of 60 votes to advance in the Senate.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee voted against the motion. Seeing that it would fail, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changed his vote from yea to nay in the final moments in order to bring the measure up for reconsideration at a future date. No Democrat voted to advance the motion.
McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, argued the Senate needs the rules change to prevent “systematic obstruction” by the Democrats.
“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,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. However, Democrats point out that Republicans blocked judicial nominees during the Obama administration, often for several months or years.
Republican senators will meet to discuss the next steps to take on the issue. McConnell is prepared to use the so-called “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver that would allow the rules change with a simple majority vote instead of the traditional 60-vote threshold.
The Senate has inched closer to making the nuclear option apply to all confirmation votes since 2013, when Senate Democrats used the nuclear option to change the number of votes needed to break a filibuster on nominations to a simple majority 51 votes. At the time, the change did not apply to Supreme Court nominees. In April 2017, Republicans changed the rules to include Supreme Court nominations approval by majority vote in an effort to ease the.