Judiciary

McConnell Considers the Next Nuclear Option

Democrats are obstructing nominations by abusing 30 hours of debate. Not for much longer.

Brian Mark Weber · Mar. 15, 2019

For all their talk about bipartisanship and making government work, Democrats have put up one obstacle after another to prevent Republicans from filling important federal court vacancies. And they’re doing it because of (you guessed it) politics. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, refused to work together with Republicans after the midterm elections to fill vacancies. Yet another problem is that any senator can hold up the process and force the Senate to engage in a lengthy debate on each nominee.

But isn’t this just politics as usual — or is there a uniquely concerted effort to block Trump’s court picks?

Just last year, The Heritage Foundation published a report called The Left’s Obstruction of Qualified Trump Nominees is Yet Another Front in the War Against the President. One of the highlights is the stunning figure that in a little more than one year since Trump’s election, the Republican Senate was forced to take 106 cloture votes on executive and judicial nominations. These votes require a 60-vote majority to end debate on a nominee.

Compare this to the past 12 administrations combined during which only 20 of these votes occurred, according to Thomas Kipping of Heritage.

But now, finally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and some of his GOP colleagues have had enough. Their plan is to expand the so-called “nuclear option” so as to greatly reduce the amount of time spent on debating nominees. All they have to do is change the Senate’s rules, which can be accomplished with a simple party-line vote.

Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine write at Politico that the plan would “shave debate time from 30 hours to just two hours for those judges and lower-level executive branch nominees.” They add, “Trump currently has 128 District Court vacancies to fill, and each one can take multiple days under current rules if any senator demands a delay; if Republicans change the rules, Trump could conceivably fill most of those over the next 20 months.”

But the Leftmedia know that the American public has a short memory, and they’re already blaming Republicans for threatening to change the historic traditions of the Senate. Of course, the Democrats had no problem tossing tradition aside when Nevada Senator Harry Reid was the majority leader back in 2013.

As Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey writes, “Reid buried the filibuster on all presidential appointments short of the Supreme Court on a rule change passed by simple majority vote, the first time that had ever been done after the start of a session of Congress. Reid and his fellow Democrats ignored the clear historical precedents to claim that they could accomplish this without consulting Republicans.” And Democrats did it after years of sanctimoniously professing their reverence for the filibuster.

There’s always a backstory in politics, and it usually reveals Democrats having already done exactly what they’re criticizing Republicans for thinking about doing. In fact, Sen. McConnell warned Reid and his fellow Democrats about deploying this “nuclear option” back in 2013: “I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, you’ll regret this,” he told them. “And you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

If McConnell is going to make that threat a reality, now’s the time. Democrats are demanding the return of “blue slips” in exchange for working with Republicans to fill vacant seats in the judiciary. Once again, it was the Democrats who in 2013 broke with a longstanding Senate tradition of requiring both senators from a judicial nominee’s state to return blue slips indicating a favorable or unfavorable opinion. At the time, Democrats eliminated the slips for lower court nominees and then Republicans did the same last year for Supreme Court nominees. Even The New York Times opposes the practice of blue slips, which can hold up the process if senators refuse to return them.

For those worried about reducing time for debating the worthiness of potential judges, we have to wonder whether 30 hours of partisan squabbling is really needed to confirm these appointments. After all, the nominees are fully vetted after clearing the Judiciary Committee. At that point, senators already know how they’re going to vote and are actually more interested in making bold, dramatic speeches that end up on the evening news instead of engaging in philosophical debates with their colleagues.

Democrats always claim that elections have consequences, but they only honor their words when one of their own sits in the White House. Now that Republicans control the executive branch and the Senate, they need to play hardball. They need to fill those seats now to ensure a properly functioning and more constitutionally conservative judiciary.

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