Senator Lankford Discusses Proposal to Change Senate Rules on Nomination Debates
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on the Senate floor.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) spoke on the Senate floor about the Senate’s requirements for debate on Executive and Judicial Branch nominations. Nominees that require Senate confirmation first go through an extensive background check by the FBI and then the committee of jurisdiction when their nomination arrives on Capitol Hill. Once they receive hearings in the relevant committees of jurisdiction and meet with individual Senators, merited nominees are successfully passed out of committee.
In the past, most nominees did not require a cloture vote so they were able to come to the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote quickly. However, in the last two years, nominees faced cloture votes at an unprecedented rate. Cloture was filed on 147 of President Trump’s nominees, and the Senate had cloture votes on 128 of them. Further, once cloture is invoked, the current rules of the Senate allow for up to 30 hours of additional debate, which has slowed nominations to a glacial pace in the Senate.
Lankford is drafting a proposal to reduce the 30 hours of post-cloture debate to two hours for most nominees, including many Executive Branch nominees and district court judges, while maintaining 30 hours for high-level nominees, including Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet-level officials. This proposal closely reflects a standing order introduced by former Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that was in place only during the 113th Congress. Separately, the threshold for confirmation of nominees was reduced from 60 votes to a simple majority. At the end of that Congress, the threshold for confirmation stayed the same, but the post-cloture debate time for all nominees went back to 30 hours. Lankford’s proposal would permanently reduce post-cloture debate time for certain nominations.
On the nominations process over the last two years
(Starts at 1:56): In the last two years, 128 times Members of the Senate required what’s called a cloture vote—one more hurdle to go through so that literally they would have to what’s called file cloture on those, allow for an intervening day for them to sit out there, and then 30 hours of debate on that person—30 hours of additional debate. So that’s after the intervening day. So it’s really—you’ve got 24 hours plus another 30, that’s all set out there to add a little additional time.
On how the current broken rules process could damage the institution of the Senate in the future
(Starts at 3:10): Two years ago, I saw this trend that was moving in the Senate, and I said, ‘Long term for the Senate this will damage the functioning of the government and of the Senate. We have to address it.’ So, two years ago I asked for a reach-out to be able to say, ‘How do we actually resolve this?’ And we had some ongoing meetings. We had a full-committee hearing dealing with this nomination process and how to resolve this in December of 2017. That was after months and months and months of meetings in preparation of that. We had a markup in April 2018 to be able to talk about how could we resolve this. What are the proposals out there?
On addressing the issue
(Starts at 4:51): So after two years of meetings, I’m making a proposal to this body. We need to fix this. We need to fix the nomination process to give an orderly process so when there is a controversial nominee, they can be addressed with additional time on the floor—even past the committee time, even past the background checks, even past the additional questions they’re asked to give additional time, but in a reasonable way to do it, so we can be able to continue to operate as a Senate.
On the proposal
(Starts at 5:20): So, my simple proposal is: we have two hours of additional debate, if additional time is allotted, and quite frankly, that’s after the intervening day, so there’d be a full day of debate and then an additional two hours on the next day that would be allotted, to give full time to anyone that may be a problem. That’s two hours of additional blocked-off time in addition to the additional day that’s put in place. I think that’s plenty of time—30 hours. Now, if it’s a Supreme Court Justice that we’re talking about, if it’s a Cabinet official, maybe 30 hours would be the best option for that as well. So, we’d do two hours for most nominees, 30 for Cabinet-Level and for Supreme Court or Circuit Court. That gives plenty of times to do additional debate, and it simplifies the process.
On the impact of a rules change on future Senate confirmations under different presidents
(Starts at 6:12): Now, this proposal is not really all that controversial. I’ve talked to many of my Democratic colleagues, and they seem to nod their head and say, ‘Yes, that is better way to resolve it.’ But the answer I’m getting back is, ‘Let’s vote for that now, but let it not start until January of 2021,’ because their assumption is they’re going to beat President Trump in an election and they’ll take over and they certainly don’t want the Senate to function when there is a Democratic President the same way that it’s functioning when it is a Republican President. My gentle nod back to them is, ‘There’s absolutely no way we should ever agree to that. Why would we ever do that?
On how this is a bipartisan issue
(Starts at 6:52): What’s happening is the last two years in the shutdown, slowdown of all these agencies that’s happened by blocking all these nominees, it’s created this muscle memory in the Senate. And if we don’t fix it now, it’s going to keep going. And to my Democratic colleagues who say, ‘We’re going to continue to block you for the next two years, the same way to shut down the functioning of agencies with some delusional belief that two years from now, this won’t happen back to them if they happen to win the Presidency—It’s false, and they know it.
On the need to resolve this now
(Starts at 7:24): If we don’t resolve this now and allow this President to be able to function with his nominees, as any President in the past has, then this is going to just keep going. And it will hurt the long-term functioning of our government. So it’s an absurd thought to say, ‘we’ll vote on it now, but we won’t actually take effect until 2021. The reasonable thing is, let’s resolve it now.
On what the proposal will do
(Starts at 7:54): So, this simple proposal I’m putting out in the next few days will make it public, and in February I hope that there’ll be a meeting with the Rules Committee to allow open debate in the Rules Committee—Republicans and Democrats alike—to be able to look at this issue and to be able to resolve it, to make any edits or changes. If there is a different way to be able to resolve this, I’m open to any other resolution. But for the long-term health of our government and of this Senate and how it operates, we’ve got to be able to resolve this.
On examples of how the current Senate rules do not work
(Starts at 8:23): Let me give you some examples. For over a year, the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services has sat out there and then was returned back to the President at the end of the session and will have to start over again. Same thing with the Chief Council for Advocacy in the Small Business Administration, the Inspector General in the Office of Personnel Management, Governors for the United States Postal service, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, the Ambassador to Colombia, the Ambassador to Morocco, the General Counsel for the Department of Navy.
On resolving the issue
(Starts at 9:41): So, I’m trying to be fair in this process. Let’s do this the right way, the way that we all know it should be done. Let’s take it to the Rules Committee. Let’s put a proposal out there to be able to fix the nomination process. Let’s get the 60 votes that are required to be able to resolve the nomination process through the Rules Committee, to the floor of the Senate and be able to fix it as a standing order. And let’s resolve it now. Lest this drags on for another two years and it never gets better. This has been a two-year process to get to this point, and in the days ahead when we release this text out, I hope my colleagues will engage in reasonable conversation to be able to resolve that. I am open to that. But I want us to fix the problem and admit that a problem needs to be fixed and solve it.