WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump's Senate GOP allies, frustrated by delays in confirming dozens of lower-profile nominees, rammed through a rules change Wednesday that cuts back debate on most of his picks.
In a series of procedural votes, the Republicans indefinitely restored rules in place during the first couple years of President Barack Obama's second term. Those rules had lapsed, allowing any senator to force 30 hours of debate on a nominee.
The new rules limit debate on most nominees to two hours instead of 30. White House selections for the Cabinet, Supreme Court and appeals courts would be exempted. Every Democrat opposed the maneuver in a pair of 51-48 votes, and they were joined by two Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mike Lee of Utah.
The Senate action came after a partisan debate that featured unusually personal finger-pointing between the chamber's party leaders, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. They have battled over judicial filibusters since the administration of President George W. Bush.
McConnell, no stranger to obstructionist tactics himself, said the situation had gotten out of hand, with the Senate taking 128 votes to end debate on Trump's nominees during his first two years in office, far more than under other presidents.
"The comprehensive campaign by Senate Democrats to delay Senate consideration of presidential nominations is now more than two years old," McConnell said. "It's time for this sorry chapter to end."
Pointing at Schumer repeatedly during a tartly worded speech, McConnell said the battles on presidential nominees date back to Schumer-led filibusters of Bush appeals court picks such as Miguel Estrada, whose nomination stalled after a lobbying campaign by liberal judicial activists.
"He started this whole thing that we've been wrestling with since 2003, cooked it up, convinced his colleagues to do it," McConnell said.
Schumer said McConnell was Machiavellian, cynical and hypocritical, and used his speech to recount a series of GOP power plays.
"This is a very sad day for the Senate. At a time when Leader McConnell brags about confirming more judges than anyone has done in a very long time, he feels the need to invoke the terribly destructive and disproportionate procedure of the 'nuclear option' in order to fast-track even more of President Trump's ultra-conservative nominees to the federal bench," Schumer said.
Chuck Schumer through his career
Chuck Schumer through his career
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters after the weekly Democratic caucus policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: Congressman Chuck Schumer votes in Park Slope. (Photo by Evy Mages/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Freshman Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) discusses the upcoming Senate trial of President Clinton during NBC's ''Meet the Press'' January 10, 1999 in Washington, DC. (photo by Richard Ellis)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2000: Sen. Chuck Schumer and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton join in the applause at a breakfast of the New York delegation at the Century Plaza Hotel on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 27: Sen. Chuck Schumer and HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo confer during a press conference at HUD headquarters, in response to the lawsuit filed by gun makers, who claim the government is giving preferential treatment to Smith and Wesson after they signed an agreement on gun safety. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2001: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) meets the Daily News Editorial Board. Schumer said that Amtrak's $12 million high-speed rail proposal is the best solution to the air traffic congestion plaguing the area. (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 27: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) holds news conference to announce that he will chair hearings on the use of military tribunals to try terrorists. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Sen. Chuck Schumer (2nd from right) joins in the festivities along Sixth Ave. at the Cuban Day Parade. (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 02: Sen. Chuck Schumer celebrates his landslide reelection victory at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on E. 42nd St. (Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 24: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., puts his hand on a 39,500-person signed petition, collected by Moveon.org, to urge lawmakers to pass the Consumer Telephone Records Protection Act of 2006, which will combat the black market of cell phone call logs stolen and sold by criminals. Gen. Wesley Clark, center, was on hand to tell how his cell phone records were stolen. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., appears at left. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 15: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pauses during a media conference on Capitol Hill March 15, 2006 in Washington, DC. Schumer and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced that they plan to travel to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong next week to discuss Chinese currency measure practices, intellectual property issues as well as port security with officials there. The trip will occur prior to a scheduled Senate vote on whether to impose a high tariff on Chinese goods, in apparent retaliation to the Chinese yuan being reportedly held at an artificially low exchange rate. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Senator Chuck Schumer during Gay Pride March 2006: The Fight for Love & Life at Street Location in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Daniel J. Barry/WireImage)
Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) walk to a news conference to talk about the newly elected Democratic majority in the Senate in Washington November 9, 2006. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 25: Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee Senator Chuck Schumer speaks during a hearing on Subprime Mortgages and the Foreclosure Crisis, July 25, 2007, in Washington, D.C. The committee heard testimony from officials and families from Cleveland, Ohio, on how the foreclosures have adversely effected their city. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 23: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., talk as the Senate Finance Committee's markup of 'The America's Health Future Act' continues on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 3: (AFP OUT) United States Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee at the Newseum February 3, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Obama spoke on a range of topics including the state of the economy and healthcare reform. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC- MAY 13: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to media after meeting with Solicitor General Elena Kagan, President Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill May 13 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the delegates on the second night of the 2012 Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena, Wednesday, September 5, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) ? Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) left, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington D.C., Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joke during a press conference on an agreement for principles on comprehensive immigration reform framework at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, listens as Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, not seen, delivers his semi-annual monetary policy report to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 18, 2013. Bernanke said one reason for the recent rise in long-term interest rates is the unwinding of leveraged and 'excessively risky' investing. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 03: Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and comedian Amy Schumer hold a joint press conference announcing plans to crackdown on mass shootings and gun violence on August 3, 2015 in New York City. This comes in the wake of the recent shooting in Louisiana. (Photo by Steve Sands/WireImage)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09: Sen. Chuck Schumer, (D-NY), speaks about social security, during a news conference on Capitol Hill, February 9, 2016 in Washington, DC. Senate democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the 'Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act' to the floor for a vote. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 12: United States Senator Chuck Schumer attends the 70th Annual Tony Awards at Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 27: Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) cheers on the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the number of votes needed to secure the party's nomination. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Sen. Chuck Schumer delivers remarks as President-Elect Donald Trump looks on on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15: A February 20, 2017 copy of TIME magazine sits in a rack at a doctor's office February 15, 2017 in New York City. The face of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party's senate opposition leader from New York, is on the cover. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 02: Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer departs after answering questions at the U.S. Capitol during a press conference on reports of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions meeting with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Schumer called for the resignation of Sessions and the establishment of a special prosecutor to investigate alleged contact between the campaign of U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the Russian government. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Schumer, however, supported this step in a 2013 vote orchestrated by then Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that eliminated the filibuster on Cabinet nominees and most judicial appointees. The maneuver allows the majority to change the rules on a party-line vote.
Republicans said at the time that Reid and Democrats would come to regret the change, which has given Trump largely free rein to fill numerous judicial vacancies that have piled up over the years.
"I share some of the responsibility for where we find ourselves today," said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. He said McConnell "said at the time that 'you're going to come to regret this decision,' and I will say this about him, he was right. I do."
Many Democrats, who benefited from prior rules changes under Obama, now say the GOP move will enable Trump and future presidents, so long as their party controls the Senate, to run roughshod over the Senate.
They say the hurdles required to win confirmation should be difficult as a way to ensure nominees are ethical, qualified and responsive to requests by senators for information.
"There is no emergency that justifies changing the Senate rules. Sen. McConnell himself admitted the Senate has plenty of time to consider nominees," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "This is all about avoiding close scrutiny for extreme ideological nominees that Republicans want to pack onto the federal courts for lifetime appointments."
But other Democrats, McConnell said, indicated behind the scenes that they could support the rules change provided that it wouldn't take effect until the next administration.
Democrats also say that GOP complaints over their tactics now ring hollow after the obstructionism Obama experienced over his two terms.
Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge nominated to the Supreme Court by Obama, failed to get a Senate hearing, and Republicans stalled numerous other Obama judicial nominees — both when the GOP was in the minority and then after retaking the Senate in 2015.
Armed with the White House and control of the Senate, Trump is now confirming both district and appeals court judges at a dizzying pace and is positioned to reshape the federal judiciary even if he fails to win a second term.