WASHINGTON (NBC News) — Mitch McConnell is about to go nuclear, again.
The Senate on Tuesday failed to adopt a resolution to change the chamber’s rules so that non-Cabinet level and district court judicial nominations would face only two hours of floor debate rather than the existing 30 hours of debate before a final confirmation vote is held.
That Republican-backed resolution needed 60 votes to pass and was defeated, as expected, in a 51-48 party line vote. But Senate Majority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., plans to use Senate procedural tactics to change those rules by a simple majority vote as soon as Wednesday.
That is referred to as the “nuclear option,” and it mirrors what McConnell did to eliminate the 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court justices in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch and, later, Brett Kavanaugh to the high court.
McConnell and fellow Republicans pointed to the Democratic leadership as having started a tit-for-tat by eliminating the 60-vote threshold for confirmation of executive branch and non-Supreme Court judicial nominations during President Barack Obama’s second term.
While in the majority in 2013, Democrats used the nuclear option to change the vote threshold for confirming presidential nominees, except for those to the Supreme Court, from 60 votes to a simple majority. That year the Senate also passed a resolution to speed up debate on lower-level nominees, a resolution that passed with bipartisan support but was only temporary.
With debate limited to just two hours instead of 30, it will be easier to confirm some of the judges nominated by President Donald Trump, something McConnell has made a priority during Trump’s first term, confirming a substantial number of judges to appeals and district courts. The rule change will also help Republicans confirm some of Trump’s other nominees who have not received a vote before the full Senate.