12.19.17

Senator Lankford Testifies on Gridlock Reform Before Senate Rules Committee

Lankford: “The rules of the Senate are not something that we can just complain about and do nothing about.”

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today testified before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on Senate Resolution 355, which is a resolution introduced by Lankford to address Senate gridlock. Lankford has advocated keeping the legislative filibuster but changing the rules that produce or result in a delay in the Senate calendar for presidential nominations. In April 2017, Lankford proposed to reinstate a rule from 2013 in order to reduce Senate post-cloture debate time. This will allow the Senate more time to consider legislation. In 2017, the Senate has confirmed 261 of President Trump’s nominations, compared to 418 of President Obama’s nominations in his first year and 483 of President Bush’s nominations in his first year.

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 will maintain the 30 hours of post-cloture debate time for Supreme Court, circuit court, and Cabinet-level nominees.  

Transcript from Opening Statement:

Chairman Shelby, Ranking Member Klobuchar, friends, and colleagues, I anticipate this to be a dialogue. I don’t think a single one of us thinks that things are going swimmingly. We’re not engaging on the issues. We do consume a tremendous amount of time not in 30-hours of debate but 30-hours of silence on the Senate floor. With occasionally someone standing up to speak on something unrelated to the 30-hours of debate on the floor for that nominee. This is not so much a debate about if only we had 30-hours of debate we would get so many facts out on so many individuals because we’re really not debating the individuals. The work is done in the committees; the work is done in a back-and-forth with the administration. That’s where it really occurs. The challenge is we have learned as a body that we are now either going to do nominees or we’re going to do legislation, but we can’t do both. Because if the calendar if full for a week on three nominations you’ll never get to any legislation, and we continue to have constituents come to us and say ‘when’s the Senate going to vote on things. And we can respond, ‘we are on nominations.” But we don’t have time for nominations and legislation. This continues to accelerate. 

The issue that we’re going to continue face is the gridlock on Capitol Hill is spreading across the rest of Washington, and the more that you have nominees that are not confirmed in every agency all of us and our constituent services folks and all of our legislative staff will tell us they’re calling over to agencies and the agencies are saying we can’t give you an answer; there’s not a Senate-confirmed person in there. As that spreads, it affects all of our constituent services, it affects every permit that we request, it affects every bit of the process that happens. The gridlock that’s here is moving over there. That doesn’t help us long-term. 

I tried to be able to give some basic examples of this and some history of it and as we deal with the post-cloture debate just on nominations. …From 1949 to 1992, there were only 12 total cloture votes for nominations during that entire time period. Then, starting in 1993, the Senate averaged around six cloture votes for nominations through 2004. In the 109th Session, the average jumped to nine cloture votes for nominations for a year, then in 2009-2012, it jumped again to over 13 a year. In 2013, at the beginning of President Obama’s second term, the Senate determined that something had to be done about nominations. In January of 2013, the Senate passed S.Res.15 by a vote of 78-16, a standing order—just for that one session—to reduce post-cloture debate time for most executive branch nominees from 30 hours to 8 hours and reduce that to two hours for district court nominees Under the standing order, post-cloture debate time for Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet-level nominations stayed all at 30 hours. 

The standing order in 2013 was an attempt to avoid the nuclear option, as we know now well from history that did not occur. The nuclear option was still invoked in November of that same year…that standing order remained and it functioned through the rest of 2014. Now, in 2013 the Senate considered it intolerable that the Senate would have 13 to 15 cloture votes in a year on nominations. This year we’ve had 63 cloture votes on nominations. That’s not comparable to where we were it’s an acceleration. I would say to this body we all know the direction of this body. We have 63 cloture votes on nominations now for this president when the presidential party changes, there will be a future Democratic president, Republicans will say they did 63 to us we’ll do 120 to them. And then the next time it’ll be they we’ll do 240 them. As we have watched this over the last 20 years slowly go up year by year, I don’t know how that turns around until this body determines that it’s going to turn around. Enough is enough. 

The rules of the Senate are not something that we can just complain about and do nothing about. The Senators control the rules of the Senate and at some point, we have to determine this is getting out of hand. We have to be able to solve it. Now, I was not here in 2013 when the nuclear option was invoked but I’ve heard the stories of the frustration that was rising and that my Democratic colleagues believe that Republicans were pushing it too far and so they determined something has to be done. I would just say I have the sense that was in a very similar position. That this can be pushed too far and at some point, Republicans respond something has to be done. For the sake of the future not just this administration but for the sake of the future, we have to determine how we're going to do this and how to be able to put his in place so that it actually works. Senator Merkley is my next-door neighbor. I was probably in the Senate three weeks and he reached out to me and said can we sit and talk about rules. I’ve heard you mentioned some things about rules. I sat in his office and we shared a lot of commonality on a lot of these issues in the sense that we have to be able to find a way to actually resolve these issues not just talk about them but figure out how it’s going to work long-term. Senator Merkley had a proposal to take all nominations to two hours period except for Supreme Court nominations…

There’s not a lot of debate that happens on the floor anymore.  Most of it happens in committee and now with 51 votes for all nominees, the outcome is most often certain. So it’s really determined before we ever get there. The issue is are we going to do legislation and nominations, or are we only going to nominations?  As I mentioned in my written testimony, the old Roosevelt term of “first 100 days” can never be a marker again, because from here on out every president in their first 100 days won’t even get their cabinet in place. They won’t be able to move legislation because they won’t be able to get personnel because it will be tit-for-tat from here on out. Losing that time period is a great loss to the American people and is unexplainable to those of us in the Senate. 

My proposal is simple. Let’s take the role that was done during that time period in 2013 with wide bipartisan support and let’s make it permanent and say this is how we’re going to continue to function from here on out. I would very much appreciate the conversation on it. If there’s a better idea to do it, I’m willing to be able to take it on and to be able to say ‘what can we do to be able to fix this’, but the best idea that I had was to take one that was already done and was already agreed on and say let’s make it permanent and go from here on out. 

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