WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed out at Democrats for stalling the confirmation of lower-level judicial and executive branch nominees ahead of debate on a proposal to reduce post-cloture debate time.
“This is completely and totally unacceptable and if we don’t stop this behavior now it will become the norm,” McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Shortly after McConnell spoke, the upper chamber took a procedural vote to begin debate on the precedent change. The vote failed and set in motion a series of revotes that are expected to continue throughout the week.
Cloture is a procedural tool used to cut off debate. It requires 60 votes. After cloture is invoked, up to 30 hours of debate time is allowed before a final vote on the legislation or nominee.
Adoption of the precedent would limit post-cloture debate to two hours. It can be done by a simple majority vote.
Republicans have 53 seats. Democrats have 45 seats plus two independents who regularly vote with the minority party.
The precedent change would not affect high-level judicial and executive branch nominees, such as appointments to the Supreme Court and the president’s cabinet.
Senate Republicans used the “nuclear option” to confirm Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That allowed for cloture to be invoked with a simple majority vote.
McConnell said in a floor speech last week that the change is needed because Democrats are engaging in “obstruction simply for the sake of obstruction.”
McConnell contrasted the 128 cloture votes that have taken place since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 with the 24 cloture votes that took place during the previous six presidential administrations.
McConnell noted that 42 of the cloture votes that have taken place under Trump were for low-level positions, such as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency is headed by former railroad industry executive Ronald Batory.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) adamantly opposes changing the precedent. He has accused McConnell of altering parliamentary rules for political convenance.