With White House awash in vacancies, Blunt moves to cut debate time on Trump nominees

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri talks with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois on Wednesday.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri talks with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois on Wednesday. NYT

In an effort to fill some of the hundreds of vacancies in federal agencies and courts, Sen. Roy Blunt is sponsoring a measure to sharply reduce the time required for debate over for most of President Donald Trump’s nominees.

Blunt, the Missouri Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, introduced a resolution Wednesday to slash the required debate time for most of the president’s nominees, including federal district court judges, from 30 hours to two.

Blunt contended that Senate Democrats have abused the current rules by requiring the full 30 hours or more than 100 of Trump’s nominees during his first two years in office, hindering his ability to fully staff the federal government.

Under Blunt’s resolution, nominees for the Supreme Court and cabinet posts would still be subject to the 30-hour rule, but it would allow the bulk of Trump’s appointees to be confirmed more quickly.

The change would be permanent and could benefit a future Democratic president, Blunt said.

“If there is a new president 2021— and I’m certainly not predicting that— they would be the biggest beneficiary of a change in this process,” Blunt told The Star Monday in a wide-ranging interview.

Blunt said that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s policy “has been to slow down virtually everything” during Trump’s first two years in office.

Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to an email about Blunt’s resolution, which is co-sponsored by Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma.

Josh Nelson, spokesman for the national progressive group CREDO Action, criticized the effort to reduce the required debate time for nominees.

“Senators who helped block Merrick Garland from even receiving a hearing should spare us the crocodile tears about obstruction and delays,” Nelson said in an email.

“The fact is, the Trump administration’s vacancies are a result of Donald Trump’s failure to make appointments in a timely manner and the exceptionally high turnover rate,” Nelson said. “If Sens. Blunt and Lankford are so concerned about Trump administration vacancies they should pick up the phone and call the White House instead of falsely blaming Democrats and trying to change the rules.”

Blunt is moving quickly with the legislation and intends for the committee to take it up as early as next week.

In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, Trump mentioned his struggles in getting judges and other appointments through the Senate.

“This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate – some after years of waiting,” Trump said. “The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and to our country.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, a freshman Missouri Republican who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been frustrated by the slow pace confirmations.

“It is an unbelievably low number of his appointees— this is just to staff the executive branch— that have been confirmed. The numbers are staggering,” Hawley said last week.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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