U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed Senate Democrats’ historic obstruction of noncontroversial, qualified nominees, simply because they were nominated by President Trump. For context, during President Obama’s first two years in office, his nominees were only subjected to 12 cloture votes. During Trump’s first two years in office, his nominees have faced 10 times as many cloture votes – a staggering 128.
Following Thune’s speech, Democrats rejected a common-sense proposal that mirrored a similar bipartisan proposal that was adopted in the 113th Congress, when Senate Republicans were in the minority and President Obama was in the White House, which streamlined the confirmation process.
Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, sometimes attempting to block a presidential nominee is justified.
“If a president nominates a candidate who is clearly unfit for the office for which he or she has been nominated, then as senators we should try to stop the confirmation of that nominee.
“But, Mr. President, that is the exception.
“The Senate’s ‘advice and consent’ power is not supposed to be used to slow-walk all of a president’s nominees simply because one party doesn’t like the president who’s doing the nominating.
“In the past, once presidential nominees had been vetted and approved by the appropriate committee, their confirmation was pretty painless.
“Cloture votes, designed to end filibusters of candidates and allow their nominations to come to a vote, were rare, because senators only tried to block nominees in extreme instances.
“But that’s no longer the case.
“Since President Trump took office, Democrats in the Senate have engaged in a systematic campaign of obstruction, pointlessly delaying qualified nominees for no reason other than the fact that Democrats dislike this president.
“But wait, you say.
“Not so fast.
“Maybe Democrats obstructed all of these nominees because they didn’t believe any of them were qualified for the positions for which they’d been nominated.
“Except, Mr. President, we know that’s not the case.
“Because again and again, Democrats have delayed and obstructed nominees that they have ultimately supported.
“One egregious example occurred in January of 2018, when Democrats forced the Senate to spend more than an entire week considering four district court judges even though not one single Democrat voted against their confirmation.
“Democrats forced the Senate to spend more than a week considering the nomination of four judges, even though not one single Democrat opposed their confirmation.
“These judges could have been confirmed in a matter of minutes by voice vote.
“But Democrats forced the Senate to spend more than a week on their consideration – time that could have been spent on genuinely controversial nominees or on some of the many important issues facing our country.
“Another ugly example occurred during my chairmanship of the Commerce Committee last Congress, when Democrats pointlessly delayed the confirmation of the undersecretary of transportation for policy, Derek Kan.
“Mr. Kan, who had been confirmed by voice vote just two years earlier as a member of the Amtrak Board of Directors, was delayed for six months in 2017, with Democrats ultimately requiring the filing of cloture.
“But not because Democrats had any problem with his qualifications.
“When the vote on his nomination finally came, he was confirmed by an overwhelming margin of 90 to 7.
“Once again, Democrats obstructed for obstruction’s sake.
“Mr. President, during President Obama’s first two years in office, his nominees were subjected to a total of 12 cloture votes.
“Want to know how many cloture votes President Trump’s nominees faced during the president’s first two years in office?
“Or more than 10 times as many cloture votes as President Obama’s nominees faced over the same period.
“Mr. President, Democrats’ slow-walking of nominees is obviously a problem for this president and his administration.
“Essential positions have stayed vacant for months longer than they should have, making it more challenging for the administration to carry out its responsibilities.
“But Democrats’ actions are not just a problem for this administration.
“They are setting a terrible precedent that could derail the work of the Senate and inhibit presidents’ ability to govern for many years into the future.
“Just imagine if Democrats’ behavior over the past two years becomes the norm.
“Presidents could be waiting years to adequately staff their administrations.
“And the Senate would be perpetually tied up on unnecessary cloture votes, leaving less and less time to actually do the business of governing.
“Mr. President, Democrats and Republicans need to curb this rampant obstruction before it becomes a permanent precedent in the Senate.
“And later today, we will have a chance to do so when we vote on the Blunt-Lankford resolution.
“Back at the beginning of President Obama’s second term, Democrats and a number of Republicans – myself included – passed a measure streamlining the confirmation process for lower-level positions like district court judges and assistant secretaries.
“This was obviously something that benefited President Obama – and only President Obama, since the rules change expired at the end of that Congress.
“But Republicans signed on because we believed that presidents should be able to staff their administrations in a timely fashion.
“And so we worked with Democrats to streamline consideration of lower-level administration nominees.
“The Blunt-Lankford resolution is very similar to the rules change we passed.
“Like the 113th Congress rules change, the Blunt-Lankford resolution would streamline the process for consideration of lower-level nominees while preserving the current rules for high-level positions like Cabinet officials and Supreme Court justices.
“Mr. President, 35 currently serving Democrat senators also served in the 113th Congress and voted for the rules change.
“And I’m hearing that Democrats would be willing to support the Blunt-Lankford resolution as well.
“But there’s one catch.
“Democrats apparently would only support the rules change if we delay the effective date of the resolution to 2021 – in the hopes that they’ll have a Democrat in the White House then.
“That’s an outrageous demand, Mr. President – ‘We’ll take the rules change when it helps us, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure the other party doesn’t get its share of the benefits.’
“But that ‘the rules don’t apply to us’ attitude has unfortunately become pretty typical of the Democrat Party lately.
“Think about recent Democrat support for packing the Supreme Court.
“Why has that long-dead idea come back to haunt us?
“Because Democrats are angry that President Trump has gotten two individuals confirmed to the Supreme Court.
“Apparently the only good Supreme Court justices are the justices nominated by Democrats.
“Or take the Democrat proposal to abolish the electoral college.
“Democrats are still mad about their loss in the 2016 presidential election.
“And their solution is not working harder to win in 2020, but changing the rules to favor their party.
“Mr. President, simple intellectual honesty would dictate that the 35 current Democrat senators who voted for the rules change in the 113th Congress vote for the rules change today.
“I hope that they will.
“Nothing less than the future of the Senate is at stake here.
“Democrats have a choice to make:
“They can vote to restore the Senate’s tradition of efficiently confirming noncontroversial nominees so that the work of the government can get done.
“Or they can continue to pursue a damaging, virulent partisanship that will negatively affect the Senate’s ability to function for decades to come.”