At an extraordinary rate, Senate Democrats continue to delay uncontroversial votes on hundreds of President Trump’s nominees.
As of Feb. 11, 1402 nominations have been received in the Senate, with only 714, or 51 percent, confirmed more than halfway through the president’s first term. In comparison, the last four presidents by this point into their first term had an average confirmation rate of 76 percent. President Trump also has the least voice votes (532) and most roll call votes (182) among the last four presidents.
Even more concerning is the number of times Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has had to invoke cloture on the Trump nominees. Cloture is used to end debate, especially against filibusters. Once cloture is invoked, the floor is open to 30 hours of debate before a vote is taken. Cloture has usually been unnecessary for executive branch nominations, because they have been noncontroversial and uncontentious. However, during President Trump’s first term, cloture has been invoked 128 times, five times more than the last four presidents combined by this time in their first term. If all 128 post-cloture debates used the full 30 hours of debate, it would total 3,840 hours, or 160 days.
Many of these 128 cloture votes have been wasted on non-cabinet level, highly-qualified candidates, like the nomination of Fernando Rodriguez Jr. to be Judge of the United States District Court for the South District of Texas. After graduating from Texas Law School and becoming a partner for the renowned Dallas law firm Baker Botts, Rodriguez spent eight years combatting human trafficking for the International Justice Mission (IJM). During his time at IJM, he secured 49 child sex abuse and trafficking convictions in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.
Beyond his credentials, the American Bar Association approved of his nomination and Rodriguez received glowing character references from his colleagues. After being dragged through the cloture process, Rodriguez was confirmed by a vote of 96-0.
As the nominee roadblock continues, S. Res. 50, which would limit the amount of post-cloture debate time for nominations, has been introduced by Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). The bill would reduce post-cloture debate time from 30 to two hours for executive branch and district court judge nominees. It would not limit the debate time for high-level nominees, including Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members.
“This has been nothing more than obstruction for the sake of obstruction and it is outrageous,” Blunt said. He added, “This resolution will get the Senate back to functioning as it should under the Constitution — in its role of advice and consent.”
Lankford said, “Needless obstruction of that process is a failure of our duty.”
Res. 50 is not unprecedented. In fact, it is an extension of a standing order from former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) during the 113th Congress. The order, agreed to on Jan. 25, 2013, included limiting the debate on executive branch positions to eight hours and district court nominees to two hours.
While the 2013 resolution passed by a vote of 86-9, the 2019 version faces significant resistance from Senate Democrats. Absent cooperation from the minority party to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for cloture on a bill intended to reduce the use of that process, Leader McConnell could use the “nuclear option” to allow it to pass with only a simple majority. Although this is certainly not the favorable route and regular order should always take precedence, something needs to be done to gut the blockade and clear floor time to debate legislation, instead of continuing to waste the taxpayers’ time and money on routine nominations.