Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee opposed GOP effort to speed up confirming Trump nominees by changing the rules

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate Floor at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Washington • Sen. Mike Lee opposed his fellow Senate Republicans on Tuesday in voting against a measure that would have allowed the GOP-led chamber to fast-track many of President Donald Trump’s nominees.

Lee, a Utah Republican, said the Senate shouldn't break its own rules for a short-term gain that could have lasting effects.

“The Senate’s rules protect the rights of the American people by balancing the competing interests of majorities, minorities and individual senators,” Lee said in a statement after the vote. “They facilitate the compromise and accountability that are essential to the governing of a large, diverse nation. At this unusually divided moment in our history, Americans need the Senate to serve its deliberative function in our constitutional system.”

The vote, which needed 60 senators in favor to proceed, failed 51-48.

Lee was the only Republican senator to oppose the measure except for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who backed the rule change but voted against it in a procedural move when it was clear it would fall short of the 60-vote threshold. Because McConnell opposed it, he can later revive the proposal.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted for the change.

The proposal would trim the time between a vote to proceed on most executive and judicial nominations to two hours of debate versus the 30 hours currently in the Senate rules. That move would speed up the Senate’s ability to confirm a slew of Trump’s picks for agencies across the government and help the president pack the court with his choices.

The change would not have covered nominees for the Supreme Court, circuit courts or Cabinet-rank positions.

Lee said the action would hurt the Senate’s role of advice and consent on the president’s nominees.

“I oppose changing the post-cloture time rule,” he said, referring to the time after the Senate proceeds on a nominee and a final confirmation vote. “I certainly oppose breaking the rules of the Senate to do so. The current rules can work for the American people; they simply require us to do the same.”

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, argued that Democrats changed the rules in 2013 to allow a majority to confirm nominations for all positions except the Supreme Court rather than the 60-vote threshold that had been established for decades. Republicans kept that majority vote rule when they took over the Senate and tossed the exception for the high court.

“Democrats overwhelmingly supported changes like these in 2013 when they helped President [Barack] Obama,” McConnell wrote in an op-ed in Politico. “And privately, many of our Democratic colleagues tell us they’d be happy to support this new proposal, too — as long as we postpone its effective date until January 2021, when they hope there will be a Democrat occupying the White House.”

“Give me a break,” McConnell added. “A rules change is either a good idea or it isn’t. The answer cannot depend on whether you like the current occupant of the White House.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans were trying a power grab to pack the court and install unqualified agency heads.

“The Senate needs to do its job. We should not be a conveyor belt for President Trump’s radical and unqualified judicial nominees,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “So let’s call this for what it is. This rules change is yet another power grab by Leader McConnell, the Republican Party, and its right-wing allies.”

“We will not be complicit in the Republican leader’s games, which sacrifice much of the comity and bipartisanship that this Senate used to represent,” Schumer added.