Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is seeking to shorten the amount of Senate debate allowed on many presidential nominees amid Democratic obstruction that he says has slowed President Donald Trump’s ability to implement policy.
Barrasso acknowledges that he obstructed some nominees during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, but said that the current Democratic opposition is more pronounced.
“Senator Barrasso has in the past slowed down debate on a very limited number of nominees. In nearly every case in order to get back sufficient answers to relevant questions put to the nominee,” Barrasso spokeswoman Laura Mengelkamp said in an email.
Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso led a boycott of President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. After asking Gina McCarthy an unprecedented 1,075 questions over multiple weeks, Republican senators simply refused to show up for committee meetings, avoiding quorum for the votes necessary to move along her nomination.
Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, had an explanation.
“The new nominee to be EPA Administrator has been extremely unresponsive with the information we requested,” Barrasso said in a statement at the time.
This came one year after an outraged Barrasso declared that Senate Republicans would no longer work with Obama.
“Business as we know it in the Senate is over for this administration in terms of accomplishing anything legislatively or finding any cooperation from this side of the aisle,” Barrasso said in 2012. “He has poisoned the well.”
Barrasso was specifically upset over recess appointments made by Obama, arguing that they were an abuse of the president’s power because the Senate was not in recess.
His comments aligned with those of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said after Obama’s first election that his goal was to ensure the president was not reelected.
Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, Senate Democrats have obstructed many of Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions and other administration posts.
In the last two weeks, Barrasso has made ending Democratic obstructionism a top priority.
“The president has laid out his agenda to create jobs, to grow the economy and to help hard-working American taxpayers,” Barrasso said in a speech on Oct. 25. “Yet, Democrats will do anything they can to stop the president from putting his team in place to accomplish these goals.”
The speech came about two weeks after it was reported that the founder of private security contractor Blackwater, Erik Prince, is considering a run against Barrasso. Former Trump adviser and right-wing media mogul Steve Bannon is recruiting Prince as part of his effort to unseat Barrasso for being insufficiently supportive of Trump.
Barrasso repeated his criticism of Democratic obstructionism at a Halloween press conference and the day after he delivered another speech on the Senate floor calling for a change to rules governing approval of nominees to make it harder for Democrats to block Trump’s picks.
This time Barrasso, the fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate, focused on the president’s judicial nominees.
“The United States Senate used to be called the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Barrasso said. “Democrats have turned it into the world’s most paralyzed deliberative body.”
As of late October, the Senate had confirmed seven judges appointed by Trump. Obama had just three judges confirmed by the same point during his first term.
Barrasso is seeking to shorten the 30 hours of debate currently allowed for the Senate to consider non-cabinet presidential nominees. One proposal would change the maximum debate time allowed to eight hours, a standard that was temporarily used from 2013 to 2015 under an agreement between Barrasso and now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York.
Barrasso has noted that Democrats have insisted on using the full 30 hours of debate even when they are not actively speaking for or against a nominee, simply to delay the process.
But to change the rules surrounding debate in the typical manner, Republicans would need to secure a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which would mean winning over several Democrats. Another option would be to change the rules by a simple majority vote, though that tactic is controversial and some Republican senators might refuse to go along.
“It’s time for senators to stop abusing the rules of the Senate just to delay work that needs to be done,” Barrasso said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “If senators won’t relent and accept the reform that was set in the previous Congress, then it’s time for us to force that change.”
Trump has yet to nominate anyone to fill many positions within the federal government, though he still lags behind the total number of appointees who have been confirmed when compared to President Obama or President George W. Bush.
As of Thursday, Trump was awaiting confirmation on 227 nominees. At the same point in his presidency, Obama was awaiting confirmation on 164 and Bush on 124.