Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going NUCLEAR.
According to Politico, McConnell is about to kick open the gates and let a torrent of judicial nominations pass through the Senate with an expedited confirmation process.
Speaking of McConnell and Republicans, Politico reports, “they’re about to accelerate their ability to unilaterally approve many nominees in dramatic fashion.”
Trump will have placed 20 percent of all Circuit Court judges, once these confirmations go through. These judges are lifetime appointments.
“At this rate, McConnell and Trump could leave few, if any, vacancies there for a potential Democratic president in 2021,” Politico adds.
The process McConnell is seeking to utilize is commonly referred to as the “nuclear” option, requiring only 51 votes for each judge. Republicans currently have 53 members in the Senate body, so the judges will most likely pass through without any problem.
Even more alarming for Democrats, the GOP is also preparing to pull the trigger on the “nuclear option” and change Senate rules once again with a simple majority to allow much quicker confirmation of lower court judges in the coming months.
“The committee is working to put [judges] out on the floor and as soon as they come to the floor the leader’s making it a priority to move them,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, McConnell’s top deputy. “It’ll be a high priority for the foreseeable future. I mean, it’s one of the things we can do that we don’t need the House’s help with.”
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McConnell’s focus remains squarely on bending the arc of the courts to be more supportive of Trump and future GOP presidents, particularly as the fight over the direction of the country shifts increasingly to the courts.
Though Trump and McConnell have set an impressive pace at the Circuit Court level, they’ve lagged on District Court vacancies. But that is likely to change as Republicans prepare to sideline Democrats and shave debate time from 30 hours to just two hours for those judges and lower-level executive branch nominees.
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.
Conservative legal advocate Leonard Leo said Trump and McConnell can continue to fill court vacancies until none are left, Politico reports.
“What you could witness under Senator McConnell’s leadership is a situation where an incoming president has very, very few open seats to fill,” Leo contended.
The massive judicial push is not without opposition as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to come to a compromise of some sort over the confirmations.
Schumer is asking Republicans to restore the power of the minority “blue slip,” or the opportunity for the president to consult states that have two senators of the opposite party.
While he has very little to offer in terms of an actual compromise, Schumer said a future Democratic majority could force Republicans to sit on the sidelines and push through judges of their own—like Democrats are being forced to do now.
“My answer to them is to restore the blue slips and then maybe we can come to a compromise,” Schumer said, as Politico reports. “They’re eroding democracy, they’re eroding bipartisanship and sooner or later, they’ll regret it.”
Republican Senator John Cornyn seemingly dismissed the idea, saying: “We can get what we need without giving Democratic senators a veto on home-state circuit judges.”
Here’s even more from the report:
Republicans believe they have the required 50 votes for the nuclear option but are hoping to achieve complete caucus unity, which might prove difficult. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) could be seen trying to sway Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on the Senate floor on Tuesday during a vote.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said McConnell is likely to move soon, but won’t call up the rules change on its own. Instead, he’s likely to set up votes on a nomination and then move to change the rules when and if Democrats resist.
“It suddenly becomes: This is the time to be able to challenge it. I think it’s sooner rather than later. I would anticipate it happens in March,” Lankford said.
Despite Republicans holding a majority in the Senate since the start of the Trump presidency, judicial nominations have not always gone smoothly. The government shutdown last year made it impossible to continue confirmations into the lame duck session and Schumer refused to cut any deals with McConnell on confirming a bipartisan package of judges after the midterm elections.
As NBC News reported last year, it was Democrats who first changed the Senate filibuster rules to utilize the “nuclear” option against Republicans. This effort was led by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid against Republican resistance to judicial nominees.
Reid reportedly changed the rules to confirm more judicial picks for then-President Barack Obama.
In 2013, Senate Democrats — then in the majority — triggered the nuclear option for the first time.
Frustrated with what they considered the relentless Republican obstruction of Obama’s appointments, Democrats led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, changed the rules so that lower court and Cabinet nominees could be confirmed with a simple majority, rather than the typical 60-vote threshold.