Senator Lankford Discusses His Nominations Rules Change Proposal on Senate Floor
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor in ardent support of his resolution, S. Res. 50, to update the rules of the Senate regarding the number of hours of “post-cloture” debate time for which nominees are eligible. Lankford’s resolution passed the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on February 6, 2019, in a vote of 10-9. On March 28, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the resolution.
In the past, most nominees did not require a cloture vote at all, so they came to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote quickly. In the 114th Congress, with a Democratic president and Republican-controlled Senate, cloture was filed on zero judges and two Executive Branch nominations. However, in the last two years, nominees faced cloture votes at an unprecedented rate. Cloture was filed on 148 of President Trump’s nominees (62 Judicial and 86 Executive) in the 115th Congress, and the Senate held cloture votes on 127 of them. Further, once cloture is filed, the current rules of the Senate require at least 24 hours, plus up to 30 hours of additional debate after cloture is invoked, which has slowed nominations to a glacial pace in the Senate.
Last week, Lankford recorded a video to provide Oklahomans with more information on his rules change proposal. Lankford also previously spoke on the Senate floor in support of this resolution and its benefit to the long-term functionality of the Senate.
Mr. President, the Senate is in a bad spot. In the first two years of President Trump’s presidency, we have had 128 times the President has sent over a nomination that the minority party has said, ‘I want additional time to be able to debate those folks.’ Now, these are individuals that have already gone through vetting at the White House. They have already gone through FBI checks. They have already come to the committee. They have done full vetting at the staff level, then a full hearing at the Member level, then had questions for the record, passed out of the committee. And then it had a lapse of time, and then a majority vote set up to be able to move them. At that time there was a request for additional time, 128 times.
To just do a quick comparison of how common that is because folks some say, ‘Well, this is normal, that is the way the Senate functions all the time.’ For President Obama in his first two years, that happened a total of 12 times. For President Bush that happened a total of four times. For President Clinton that happened a total of eight times. But on President Trump it happened a total of 128 times. This is a new way of operation for the Senate, and I really should say: it’s a new way of not operating for the Senate. And it’s an issue that has to change. And it’s not just about President Trump—it’s about this body and who we’re going to be and how we’re going to operate.
In the past when there was a nomination from any president, it was the assumption that the president was elected, they could hire their staff. Now the resistance has stepped up and said, ‘The president’s elected, but we won’t let you hire staff. We won’t let you put your policies in place because we will prevent you from getting any people into a spot.’ Well guess what? As soon as there’s a Democrat president elected—at some point in the future there will be—Republicans will now retaliate back to that say, ‘Tell you what, we’re going to do the same thing. You can’t hire your staff.’ This is a new precedent that has been set. And if we don’t correct it, it is damaging to our republic.
A president should be able to hire their staff. All of the agencies need Senate-confirmed individuals to be able to actually conduct their business. We need judges to be able to execute it across the country. These are basic things that need to occur. Now I’ve heard folks say, ‘Well, there’s been no problem getting judges through. In fact, Republicans have bragged about the total number of judges coming through.’ Let me just give you a comparison: If we stay on the same pace right now with judges, just for the district court judges, which are the most common judges across the country, if we stay on the same pace and President Trump is in office for eight years, he will have put in 193 judges. President Obama put in 272 judges. It is factually not true that we’re able to just ram through all these judges to be able to work through the process. We’re not on an epic pace. Now there has been a higher number for circuit court judges. That is correct, because this Senate has prioritized working on circuit court judges, but that’s to the detriment of everything else because you can’t do all of it because there’s this constant request for additional time.
Now the additional time at the end of it, again I’ve heard folks say, ‘Two hours is not enough time to be able to debate.’ That would be true only if two hours was the only thing that was allocated for debate. Those individuals have already been through vetting at the White House, vetting in committee. They’ve gone through the process and been approved. This is not two hours of time, it’s actually 26 hours of time. Because people are conveniently leaving out there’s a required what’s called an ‘intervening day.’ We’re talking about nominees moving from 54 hours of floor debate time to 26 hours of floor debate time. It’s just convenient to leave out that extra day that happens to be in there if you want to make the argument. So our simple conversation is this: How can we get the Senate back to work again?
In 2013 Harry Reid led a movement that 78 Senators approved of to be able to say, ‘For two years, 2013, 2014, let’s fix the nominations process in the Senate.’ There was wide agreement to be able to do that. At that time Harry Reid stood on the [Senate] floor and said, ‘Now let me make this clear—We shouldn’t have all these nominees go through the post cloture and all this debate on the floor anyway. Most of these have already passed through committee; they should be done by voice vote. But in the rare exception that someone has to come to the floor, let’s limit the floor time because it’s not really used anyway—It’s just a tactic to delay.’ If you need evidence of that, all the conversation that’s been recently held on this floor about debate, about, ‘We’ve got to have all this additional time for debate. These are lifetime appointees. These are essential people, so these need to have a debate on the floor about them.’
Let me tell you what that really looks like in real life, because that sounds very sanctimonious here on the floor, but in real life, it looks like this. Here are the circuit court judges done this session of Congress so far. These are circuit court. This is the appellate court. These are very important folks that are in the process. These folks currently have 30 hours and all of these folks, there was a demand to get 30 hours of extra debate time on the floor because they were so important. But here’s the actual problem. When that 30 hours of debate time was done and was blocked off and was respected, the first of the circuit court nominees actually got on the floor one hour and 16 minutes of actual debate. Not 30 hours. Actually people coming to the floor and debating it, one hour and 16 minutes. The next nominee had 18 minutes, 57 seconds total of debate on this floor, though 30 hours of debate was blocked off, which meant most of the time, the floor was empty waiting on someone to actually debate. Next nominee had one hour 23 minutes. The next one, my favorite, circuit court judge, four minutes, 22 seconds of actual debate when 30 hours of debate was demanded for this lifetime appointment. Next circuit court judge, 23 minutes, 6 seconds. The next one for the DC circuit actually, very controversial, lots of noise about this nominee, 47 minutes, 28 seconds.
Now, it’s one thing for folks to say, ‘These are lifetime appointments, so we need to make sure that we block off a significant period of time on the floor.’ It’s another one to actually see the facts. These folks have gone through committee and we all know it. Gone through background, and we all know it. Every one of these individuals has been cleared, and we know the outcome of all of these. We should respect each other and acknowledge that if this body is going to do legislation and personnel, no one can lock up the body and demand 30 hours of time on a nominee when actually we use four minutes and 22 seconds.
If we want to shift it off of judges and shift it into executive nominees, recently we had a demand for 30 hours of additional debate time from our Democratic colleagues for the Bureau of Labor Statistics nominee. They demanded extra time because they were so controversial. On this floor there was exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of debate on that actual nominee. You see this is not about actually debating people whether they’re qualified or not qualified. This is about preventing President Trump from getting nominees by locking up the floor and making sure that he can’t actually hire staff or can’t actually put people on the courts. This will be reciprocated in the days ahead to every Democrat president and will be done to every Republican president in the future if we don’t fix this now. We have two years and three months of bad muscle memory on a process that should not be like this and has not been like this in the past. We can fix this.
When there was a Democrat president and a divided city led by Democrats at the time, Republicans joined Democrats to be able to fix that nomination process for a Democrat president. The mistake was made was to do it only for a two-year time period. We should learn from our mistake, and we should fix this from here on out. This is doable.
To give an example, last session of Congress, 386 nominees were never heard on this floor, were sent back at the end of Congress to say, ‘You have to start all over again.’ Three-hundred and eighty-six.. Those are folks that quit their job, that went through FBI background checks, that went through reviews, that went through hearings, that confronted all the questions that were brought at them—386 of them—and then were stalled out and never heard, sent back to the White House. That means in the future we’ll have less opportunity to get more people that are qualified to be able to apply for this. We want the best of the best to actually come and serve in our government. We will not get that if people have to quit their job to go through the nomination process, wait a year or two years, then get sent back and said, ‘You have to start all over again to go through the process.’ Who will want to go through that process in the days ahead?
We need to fix this both for the nominees that are coming through the process. We need to fix this for the Senate that needs to have a better process of actually expediting through nominees. And we need to fix it for the country, quite frankly. It’s a simple process. It’s not trying to get partisan advantage, it’s trying to fix it long term, regardless of who is in the White House. Let’s fix it this week.
We have talked about this for two years. We have floated different proposals. Let’s fix it this week from here on out to have a better process in the Senate. Why in the world are we arguing about our rules in the Senate when we should be worrying about the issues the American people face? Of all places, of all people, we should have fair rules in the Senate to actually have our debate, have a vote, and then move to finish and move to the next thing. There is more to be done.