Alexander Invites Democrats to Join Him to Speed Up Approval of Presidential Nominees

Posted on February 13, 2019

WASHINGTON, February 13, 2019 — United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today invited his Democrat colleagues to join him to speed up the approval of presidential nominees.

“What we should do is what we did in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when I, a Republican, volunteered to work to help President Obama, a Democrat, and a Senate Democratic majority to make it easier for presidents to confirm nominees. And we did it immediately,” Alexander said today at a Senate Rules & Administration Committee meeting.  “I'm waiting for my Democratic friends to show the same kind of bipartisan spirit that I tried to show in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“The Democratic slowdown has meant that two of Tennessee’s district judges – spent 10 months and 9 months on the calendar -- TVA nominees sitting there, a U.S. Marshal who had served before, not a controversial position or nominee, took 250 days to be confirmed. This diminishes the advice and consent role of the Senate. At a time when the executive is more powerful, we end up with an executive branch filled with acting nominees who have no accountability to Congress.

“Make no mistake – Republicans can change this current process and will, but I would prefer that we do it the way I worked with you to do it in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and that we do it immediately because it needs to take effect immediately.”

Below is the transcript of Senator Alexander’s remarks at the meeting:

I count nearly nine members of the Senate who may be candidates for president. In about 20 months, they hope they'll be the president. Do you not think that at least one Republican senator will do to your nominees what you've done to President Trump's?

Now here's the current practice for nominees. Senator McConnell files a cloture motion on Monday because he has to. One senator has objected to his moving ahead with say, a nominee to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors, a part-time non-controversial position. We get to vote on Wednesday and then there's up to 30 hours of debate after the cloture vote, while we haven't always been debating for all 30 hours, we are at least into Wednesday night after starting on Monday for a non-controversial nominee to serve on the TVA board of directors.

That's happened 128 times in President Trump’s first two years. If a really energetic Republican senator wanted to apply that procedure to all 1,200 nominees of the new Democratic president, it would take 23 years to staff the government. That has to change. 128 times for Trump, 12 times for Obama, four times for George W. Bush, 12 for Clinton, and none for the administration where I served, H.W. Bush.

Two of Tennessee’s district judges – spent 10 months and 9 months on the calendar -- TVA nominees sitting there, a U.S. Marshal who had served before, not a controversial position or nominee, took 250 days to be confirmed. This diminishes the advice and consent role of the Senate. At a time when the executive is more powerful, we end up with an executive branch filled with acting nominees who have no accountability to Congress.

Can Republican Senators change this on their own? Yes we can. The Senate did in 1995 when Senator Hutchison changed a rule on legislating on appropriations bills. Senator Reid did it in 2013. Senator McConnell did it in 2017. It's a lot like the referee looking at the rule book and saying a first down is 10 yards, but I'm going to call it nine. He's the referee, so it's nine yards.

Should we do it? No, we shouldn't. We should change the rules by a bipartisan majority, and we should do it now. Senator Levin said when the Senate majority can change the rules anytime it wants it's a Senate without any rules.  President Jefferson said it doesn't matter what your rules are, you just need rules. It's an awkward position for the chief rule making body to be not following its own written rules and expecting the rest of the country to do it.

But what should we do? What we should do is what we did in 2011, 2012 and 2013 when I, a Republican, volunteered to work to help President Obama, a Democrat, and a Senate democratic majority to make it easier for presidents to confirm nominees. And unlike what the ranking member said, we did it immediately. I didn't say we should wait until the next president, we abolished secret holds immediately. We reduced the number of hours to read legislation immediately. We expedited the consideration of 272 “privileged nominations” and that went into effect in 60 days. We eliminated Senate confirmation for 163 positions and 3,000 non-controversial officer corps positions and that law went into effect in 60 days after it was enacted. The rules we changed to speed up cloture, go to conference with fewer votes, and expedite the motion to proceed if the leaders agree on amendments all went into effect immediately. The standing order – like the one we're discussing today – we adopted at Senator Reid's request, which said there would be eight hours of post-cloture debate for sub-cabinet members and two hours for judges, that went into effect immediately. That's what we should do. We should do it the right way. And I'm waiting for my democratic friends to show the same kind of bipartisan spirit that I tried to show in 2011, 2012 and 2013. I didn't suggest we wait until the next presidential election.

So I'm voting to move this resolution out of committee today because this obstruction has to change. I'm still waiting for that expression of bipartisan spirit. If someone's got an improvement to the resolution Senator Lankford and Senator Blunt have suggested, well, I'll be glad to talk with you about it when it goes to the floor, but this is a terrible precedent for the Senate. It destroys advice and consent. It sets up a government of acting nominees.

Make no mistake -- Republicans can change this current process and will, but I would prefer that we do it the way I worked with you to do it in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and that we do it immediately because it needs to take effect immediately. The question is, of the nine Democrats running for president, can they not think of one Republican senator who will double down on what the Democrats have done to President Trump? Democrats won't be able to form a government if we leave this in place.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee today advanced Senator James Lankford’s (R-Okla.) resolution to speed up post cloture debate on nominations to the Senate floor for consideration. Alexander supported advancing the resolution.

  

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