Senator Lankford Again Pushes Gridlock Reform on Senate Floor
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WASHINGTON, DC – Days after testifying before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration about his gridlock reform proposal, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate, Thursday, about the issue. Lankford has advocated a series of Senate rule changes to streamline the executive confirmation process, to address the numerous federal agency vacancies, and also allow the Senate to debate and vote on more legislation.
The Senate has confirmed 300 of President Trump’s nominations, compared to 418 of President Obama’s nominations and 493 of President Bush’s nominations on this date (December 22) of their presidencies. In April 2017, Lankford proposed to reinstate a rule from 2013, supported by former Democratic Leader Harry Reid, in order to reduce Senate post-cloture debate time. Specifically, the resolution seeks to reduce post-cloture debate time for most executive branch nominees from 30 hours to eight hours and district court nominees from 30 hours to two hours. The resolution would maintain the 30 hours of post-cloture debate time for Supreme Court, circuit court, and Cabinet-level nominees.
I believe the Senate is moving gridlock from here on this Capitol Hill all across the city and across the nation. The reason for that is how we do nominations and the length of time on nominations. It’s time for the Senate to fix the Senate’s rules.
Here’s how it works. As this body knows extremely well, we have over 1,000 nominees that come from the president. The first year of a new presidency, a vast amount of time is spent in getting those 1,000 people through the nomination process. Each one of those is selected by the white house. They do their own vetting and then they send them over to the Senate. The Senate has the constitutional responsibility for advice and consent. When they come to the Senate they’ll go through background checks and evaluations, conversations with staff on both sides of the aisle, then come to the committee. They’ll go through a committee process and a hearing. They’re voted on in that time period and then they move to the floor. When they move to the floor for debate, typically for most of the years of the Senate, they have already gone through the committee process. Every member of the Senate has the opportunity to be able to take a look at their information and then they move through with a simple majority vote. That’s the way that it’s moved for most of the history of the Senate.
A few years ago, 20 or so, some individual senators started asking for cloture votes. Those cloture votes started to slow the process down on about three or four nominations a year. And then it became nine or so nominations a year. And then it moved to as crazy of a number as 13 or so a year of the 1,000 or so moving through.
That became such a nuisance that in 2013, my democratic colleagues called for something they call the nuclear option, to say we’ll just take nominations not from 60 required to be able to get to cloture, but just to 51. There’s a lot of debate and internal conversation about that because Republicans, quite frankly, were holding up 15 or so nominations a year in the cloture process. So there was a big debate about that. In the beginning of President Obama’s second term, Republicans and Democrats came together, and they changed the rules of the senate for two years. And said, okay, truce.
The simple rule of the Senate was for any cloture vote, if there was one called for, again typically you’d never call for one, but if there was one called for it would be two hours of debate for a district court judge, eight hours of debate for most nominees, and 30 hours of debate for supreme court, circuit court or cabinet level. Again even Harry Reid, when he stood on the floor, said this would be only, his words, extraordinary circumstances. You should ask for a cloture vote at all. But if they were asked for, it would be two hours, eight hours or 30 hours. Prior to that, all nominations were 30 hours of debate. Literally taking up an entire day to move one person, knowing that you have to move 1,000. Then a few months later after that, still in 2013, Democrats still frustrated that Republicans were calling on some cloture votes still, moved to have the nuclear option entirely in just transition all nominations except for supreme court to just 51. So now they had the rule of expediting 2 hours, 8 hours and 30 hours and the ability to move them all with just 51 votes.
Quite frankly, if you’re going to change the rule to 51 votes, you probably need to change the cloture rule as well. They just did it in reverse. Changed the rule for how many hours it would take and then later changed the rule for how many people it takes to go through the process.
Now, what’s happened? Remember I argued that we had 13, 14, 15 people held up in cloture in a year. This year so far there have been 64 nominations held up in a cloture vote. That is 64 days in the Senate we could do nothing else but sit here in waiting. Now it wasn’t for debate. It may sound like it’s being held for 30 hours of debate during that time period. Debate normally didn’t happen. Most of the time this chamber was just empty. It was just 30 hours were demanded to shut down the body as a whole, 64 in this year. What has brought us? It’s brought us more animosity. It’s brought us more division and more frustration.
What happens in the meantime when that does not occur? I’ll tell you what happens. In the meantime, we’ve got agencies all over this town that can’t answer a question because the bureaucrats are waiting on a Senate-confirmed individual to be able to lead that, to be the secretary, under secretary, deputy secretary, whatever the task may be, the counsel for that particular agency. So they sit and wait. So our constituents that are trying to get a permit in certain places or trying to get an answer or trying to get disaster relief, all that they can say in the office is we can’t do that until we get a Senate-confirmed position in this place, but we can’t get Senate confirmed positions in place until my democratic colleagues will actually allow individuals to actually come up and be debated on.
It’s the same frustration that has existed for a while. It’s just getting louder. At some point, we have to put in a process and say how do we get out of this? How do we fix this? I think the best way to be able to fix this is take a bipartisan solution that was agreed on to before when Democrats were in the lead and to agree to it now and say that’s going to be the permanent rule.
In what is historically called the greatest deliberative body in the world wouldn’t it be nice to get back to deliberating again, spending time on more legislation rather than more time arguing about why aren’t we debating it when everyone secretly knows the reason is because we can’t get to the floor. I do grow tired. I grow tired of hearing all the political statements and accusations. Republicans hate children. They want to throw them out. They don’t want them to have health care. They hate people of color. They’re trying to exclude people from voting. They’re trying to keep people from having taxes. They only care about the wealthy. It’s just over and over and over when at the same time the undercurrent is out there to block all legislation and to keep anything from being discussed on the floor.
I look forward to the day we can work through solutions, not just argue and banter back and forth on political statements. We’re going to get stuff solved. Let’s not pretend and play games and put each other down. Let’s fix the rules in the Senate whether it be budget rules that keep us from having real debate, the rules in the Senate that keep us from actually working rather than allow us to actually do work. The rules of the Senate and the process in the Senate is determined by the Senators. So we alone are to blame when the Senate’s not working. There’s no finger pointing, there’s no ‘it’s that party,’ there’s no ‘it’s that person.’ It’s all of us. So my recommendation is simple. Let’s fix it. Let’s resolve the issue. Let’s do the right thing the right way. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.