Political News

Trump's judge nominees get a hand from McConnell

Posted October 26, 2017 5:19 p.m. EDT

— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved Thursday to break filibusters of four appeals court nominees, acting aggressively to break what he complained is "often mindless" Democratic obstruction of President Donald Trump's judicial appointments.

McConnell, who is still reeling from his inability to muscle through the Senate a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is under increasing political pressure from the right flank of his party to more assertively bolster Trump's legislative agenda, especially by confirming judges to their powerful lifetime posts.

"Senate Democrats have decided to continue wasting the Senate's time with pointless obstruction of these nominees," McConnell said before he filed procedural motions that will be voted on next week to break the filibusters. "Time and again, they have erected partisan procedural hurdles designed not to change an outcome but simply to waste the Senate's time."

"Often," McConnell added, "Democrats don't even oppose the nominee in question."

Each of the nominees McConnell is trying to get confirmed, was appointed to an influential circuit court post: University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephanos Bibas for the third Circuit; Notre Dame law professor Amy Barrett for the 7th Circuit; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen for the sixth Circuit; and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid for the tenth Circuit.

McConnell has had a mixed relationship with Trump over the first nine months of the new President's term and has taken steps in recent weeks to repair divisions and demonstrate he is anxious to carry out key legislative items on which the two agree.

As conservative groups grew agitated at McConnell for the slow pace of judicial confirmations, the GOP leader said he would push through judges at a faster pace, promising late nights and longer workweeks to get them done. GOP leadership aides say that intense focus on judicial nominations would begin next week and carry out for the next several weeks while waiting for negotiators to try to craft a major tax deal.

Both parties have used filibusters to block judicial nominees from the opposite party and sorting out who is guiltier can be difficult.

McConnell noted Thursday that Republicans filibustered only one of Obama's nominees during the former President's first year in office, while Democrats have filibustered all but one of Trump's.

Democrats point to a different statistic to demonstrate they are being fairer to Trump than Republicans were to Obama. Trump, they note, has had seven circuit and district court judges confirmed while at this point in his presidency Obama only had three.

"This is a manufactured controversy from Sen. McConnell, who is under tremendous pressure from the conservative base," said a Senate Democratic aide who asked not to be identified. "After the threat of ads from Judicial Crisis Network, it's no surprise he's chosen to try to placate the base with judges."

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias called McConnell's decision to break filibusters of the four judges "bold" but said McConnell "wrote the playbook" on stalling judges that Democrats are now using.

He also said that "Trump's appellate nominees have been much more conservative than Obama's highly qualified, mainstream nominees."