The Trump Presidency is well into its seventh month but the Trump Administration still barely exists. Senate Democrats are abusing Senate rules to undermine the executive branch, and Republicans need to restore normal order.
President Trump got an inexcusably slow start making nominations, but in the past few weeks he’s been catching up to his predecessors. According to the Partnership for Public Service, as of June 28 Mr. Trump had nominated 178 appointees but the Senate had confirmed only 46. Barack Obama had 183 nominees confirmed by that date in his first term, and George W. Bush 130.
The White House has understandably begun to make a public issue of the delays, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says it “has only itself to blame.” But a press release Mr. Schumer sent out Monday made the White House case, showing that the Senate has received 242 nominations but confirmed only 50 through June 30. Democrats are now the problem.
Among the non-controversial nominees awaiting confirmation: Kevin Hassett to lead the White House Council of Economic Advisers; David Malpass, under secretary at Treasury for international affairs; two nominees needed to review pipelines and other projects at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Noel Francisco for Solicitor General. Mr. Malpass was nominated in March and voted out of committee in mid-June. Mr. Trump’s State Department is barely functioning with only eight confirmed appointees.
Democratic obstruction against nominees is nearly total, most notably including a demand for cloture filings for every nominee—no matter how minor the position. This means a two-day waiting period and then another 30 hours of debate. The 30-hour rule means Mr. Trump might not be able to fill all of those 400 positions in four years. The cloture rule also allows the minority to halt other business during the 30-hour debate period, which helps slow the GOP policy and oversight agenda.
Democrats have also refused to return a single “blue slip” to the Judiciary Committee, which has the effect of blocking consideration of judicial nominees from their home states. Senators like Minnesota’s Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar are holding hostage the eminently qualified Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for no reason other than politics.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s troops are even invoking an obscure rule that prohibits committees from doing business more than two hours after the Senate opens for the day. Republicans have had to cancel briefings on national security and Russia electoral interference, as well as scrap a markup of two human-trafficking bills.
Democrat Harry Reid didn’t have the cloture headache when he was Majority Leader because in 2013 he cut a deal with Republicans. The GOP traded the ability to offer more amendments to legislation in return for letting Mr. Reid limit post-cloture debate for most nominations to eight hours. This rule let Mr. Reid confirm dozens of judicial and lower-cabinet nominations every week. But the deal expired in early 2015, and good luck getting Mr. Schumer to grant the GOP the same terms.
Frustrated Republicans may soon begin listening to Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford, who wants the majority to impose the eight-hour rule unilaterally. Most debate about nominees occurs during vetting and in committees. Eight hours on the floor is enough for all but the most controversial nominees, and the Senate could then get back to other business.
As for the blue-slip tradition, it was designed to facilitate advice and consent by allowing Senators to use their home-state knowledge about local judges to better inform the White House. But it is a courtesy, not a rule, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley can ignore Senators who are using their blue slips as ideological vetoes of qualified candidates.
Mr. Trump has nominated first-rate judges, and Mr. Grassley is justified in suspending blue-slip privileges on a case-by-case basis. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also been starting the Senate at different times of the day to get around the Democratic sabotage of committee work. But note Mr. Schumer’s childishness in forcing a game of Senate hide-and-seek.
Mr. McConnell will be wary of Mr. Lankford’s advice to change a Senate rule in the middle of the term, but the Majority Leader rightly did so when Democrats staged a historic filibuster of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Democrats aren’t using cloture to raise the level of debate or highlight unqualified nominees. They are using it—and have said as much—to sabotage a Presidency. That isn’t what the Founders intended, and Republicans have every right to stop this abuse of process to let the President form a government.
Appeared in the July 11, 2017, print edition.