I’ve written for a long time about Senate Democrats obstructing confirmation of President Bush’s circuit court nominees.
In fact, one would have to go back to 1848 to match their pace. During the last 2 years of Clinton’s reign, 15 nominees were confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate. During Bush’s last 2 years, 8 nominees have so far been confirmed. The typical average is 17.
I’ve written for months that Republicans were becoming increasingly exasperated with Democrat stall tactics, obviously to keep as many spots open as possible pending the hopeful election of a Democrat president, despite the fact some are now considered “emergency vacancies.”
reid mcconnell 5.jpgOn May 22, as the Memorial Day deadline approached when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had promised 3 confirmations and only produced 1, Republicans rattled their sabres louder.
So it should have come as no surprise when on June 4, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used a parliamentary procedure to shut down the Senate to force movement from the Dems on judges. He demanded a 491-page bill be read in full, his prerogative….

Of course, Democrats howled Republicans were merely trying to avoid bringing the world back from the precipice of climactic disaster since the legislation by which they chose to freeze Senate work was a global warming bill. Ever hyperbolic Barbara Boxer said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:
boxer 5.jpg

“We are on the brink of energy independence and on the brink of saving the planet, and they are using every dilatory tactic to try to stop us,” Boxer said.

Talk about delusions of grandeur.
But Republicans plan to continue the work stoppage. This was an exchange between McConnell and Hugh Hewitt on his show yesterday:

HH: Do you intend to keep the Senate bollixed up until they come through with the appellate court judges you…
MM: Well, I’m not going to telegraph every move, but I can tell you there’ll be minimal cooperation except when we choose to until this commitment is kept.
HH: And have you had any entreaties today from Senator Reid indicating he’s willing to keep his word?
MM: Well, not yet, not yet, but we’re just getting started.

On June 4, McConnell held an excellent press conference on the topic. The transcript is below.
TRANSCRIPT: Republican Leader Mitch McConnell holds a media availability on the Democratic Majority’s refusal to honor commitments on judicial nominations
June 4, 2008
MCCONNELL: I wanted to provide a bit of explanation about how the Senate is spending its time this afternoon.
To refresh your memory, on the issue of circuit court judge appointments, Senator Reid and I agreed at the end of — at the beginning of this Congress that it was reasonable to achieve the same level of cooperation that each of the last three presidents had received from a Senate of the opposition party in the last two years of their tenures in office, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton.
The average number of circuit judges confirmed by the opposition party in the last two years of each of those presidencies was 17. The lowest number was 15, in President Clinton’s last two years. And we agreed that that was a reasonable goal and ought to be achieved during the course of this Congress.
As of this moment, there have been eight. Prior to the last recess, as a result of some parliamentary efforts on my part, Senator Reid agreed that we would do three before Memorial Day. If you recall, we did one.
In the Senate, the minority has rights. We are not the House of Representatives. Commitments are important, and commitments have not been kept.
The pace is incredibly slow. In fact, if you look at judicial confirmations in a presidential year, you have to go back to 1848, prior to the existence of my party, when ironically the only president from Kentucky was in office, Zachary Taylor, to find the last time the pace has been this slow.
So this is completely unacceptable. And the reason the clerks are reading the substitute this afternoon is to give the majority time to contemplate and consider the importance of keeping your word in this body.
The solution to the problem is to get 15 circuit judges, which is lower than the numbers Senator Reid and I agreed to at the beginning of this Congress, but seven beyond what we have at the moment.
Time is clearly running out, and I believe that’s what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has had in mind, because there was no rational basis for not keeping the commitment that was made by the majority leader prior to the Memorial Day recess.
We had a number of circuit court nominees. I can think of one from North Carolina and one from South Carolina, just picking out the one from North Carolina. By the way, blue slips from both senators have been returned from both those states.
But just focusing on the one from North Carolina, for example, I believe he was found unanimously well-qualified by the ABA and had been confirmed twice by the Senate before, first as U.S. attorney and then as district judge. So there were judges available that could have come out of committee and the commitment could have been kept.
So there will be further efforts on the part of the minority, as we go forward, to help see to it that the commitment and the goal made at the beginning of this Congress by the majority leader is kept.
With that, I’ll be happy to throw it open for a few questions.
QUESTION: Once this reading of the bill is done, if Senator Reid hasn’t made any sort of concessions, what happens next? Will you continue to hold up the climate bill?
MCCONNELL: We actually hate to hold up the climate bill. We really like it. We think it’s a great debate. We do think that it ought to be on the floor for a while, not for any dilatory reasons, but because of the magnitude of the bill. This proposes to be the largest restructuring of the American economy since the New Deal.
It is a massive shift of power to the government, a huge tax increase, a 53-cent-a-gallon gas increase — in fact, this is no small measure. So let’s put it in context, in terms of how the Senate typically handles a measure of this magnitude.
Even though this bill was not as big, I pick out, for example, the clean air bill of 1990, which was on the floor for five weeks, had 180 amendments, and that’s the way the United States Senate deals with really big issues, you can’t take a massive measure out like this out on the floor, try to dictate a consent agreement under which each side gets a couple of amendments, and when you don’t get that, fill up the tree and file cloture.
On a bill of this magnitude, that’s utter nonsense. It’s not going to happen.
Having said that, we’re happy to have the debate. We think it ought to be a real debate with real amendments. We have a number of amendments to offer. And there’s no way to hide from this measure and no way to jam it through the Senate.
So we would like to stay on the bill. But there are other commitments that need to be kept. The Senate can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can deal with climate change on the floor, and it can get judges out of the Judiciary Committee, all at the same time, miraculously enough.
QUESTION: Senator McConnell…
QUESTION: … what specific steps, I guess, will you take beyond this, the reading of the bill, to, you know, as the other gentleman said, if Senator Reid doesn’t bend…
MCCONNELL: Yes, obviously, if I were to announce to you today what I might do beyond this, that would be less effective.
QUESTION: Well, and the follow up, then, sir, do you think…
MCCONNELL: Well, look, the way to avoid this problem is quite simple. Let’s get 15 circuit judges confirmed, and let’s do it soon. It’s an easily achieved goal. It’s an easily achieved goal.
We have people pending in the committee upon which blue slips have been returned, about which there is no element of controversy. This is a commitment easily kept and should be kept.
QUESTION: Do you think they’re just trying to wait out the administration?
MCCONNELL: One would get that impression, yes. But that is inconsistent with what the majority leader and I agreed was a reasonable goal for this Congress. And the way out of this dilemma is easily understood. It is to keep the commitments made at the beginning of the Congress.
This is not an impossible commitment to keep. There are an adequate number of candidates before the committee that are well- qualified, that have been there for a long time.
In fact, the commitment could have been kept before Memorial Day. What they tried to do was to rush forward nominees that had just gotten there when they could have processed some who were already there who were not controversial.
QUESTION: Have you suspended any kind of talks with the other side on the climate bill or any other bill that might be upcoming (OFF-MIKE) effectively stopped talking about anything other than trying to resolve this issue on the judicial nominees?
MCCONNELL: Well, we do lots of things at one time around here. And we talk to each other. We have a good relationship. But we have a problem here, and it’s a problem the majority knows how to solve and needs to solve.
QUESTION: Senator McConnell, sorry, just to clarify. I want to make sure I understand what you guys are saying you’ll be doing. You’re not saying that, once this reading is done, the very next amendment will also have to be read? You’re saying, “This is the first thing we’ve done, and the majority needs to be on notice that we will try other similar maneuvers to — unless we get an
MCCONNELL: Well, let me be quite clear. There is a solution to this problem. It is seven more circuit judges this year. The path to do that is perfectly clear. The nominees are available to keep the commitments made by the majority leader at the beginning of the Congress. And we expect that commitment to be kept. Those kind of commitments are important in the Senate.
Now, let me just also say this to their advantage. If they realize their fondest hopes, they could be nominating judges next year. I hope that doesn’t happen. But it strikes me it’s to their advantage to defuse this issue, because around here what goes around comes around. That’s happening today and could happen next year.
And so I think, surely, they’re not so short-sighted as to think, “Goodness, just a few months from now, we could be processing nominees that we like.”
QUESTION: But just to clarify, I mean, if the solution to this problem, as you say, does not come about, then the Senate GOP will continue to employ maneuvers like this…
MCCONNELL: Well, it’s not to my advantage to clarify. I understand that you would like for me to clarify. I don’t intend to give away any advantage by clarifying that which I prefer to have remain vague.
And the question here is, how do you solve the problem? And the solution, I have repeated several times, is apparent.
MCCONNELL: Let me go to somebody new, and then I’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: Your frustration over judges isn’t new and the frustration of one side with the other over — you know, it may be slow-walking things. It’s certainly not new. So my question is: Why now?
MCCONNELL: Why now is because the…
QUESTION: And it makes me wonder if you sort of observed Leader Boehner’s delay tactics, sort of when he felt he was being mistreated, he had some floor delay tactics going on over there that…
MCCONNELL: No, this is the Senate. That’s the House. In the Senate, we had a commitment made by the majority leader prior to the Memorial Day recess that we would get three circuit judges. We got one. Commitment made; commitment broken.
QUESTION: Senator, how do you deal with this public perception — on the floor, people are using terms like “this bill is essential to the survival of the planet.” You know, “survival of the planet” versus two circuit judges, “survival of the planet” versus two circuit judges.
MCCONNELL: Yes. Well, I’m not at all uncomfortable with the debate on the floor over the climate change bill. We think it is, frankly, a totally inappropriate way to deal with the problem. The way Americans tackle problems like this is with technology, not with clamping down our own economy. We ought to create the technology to solve the problem and then sell it to the Chinese and the Indians, rather than export American jobs to China and India by clamping down our own economy.
So this is a debate, I assure you, we are happy to have and would be happening this afternoon, but for the violation of the commitment made pre-Memorial Day.
And I hope we stay on the bill. I have a suspicion that we won’t. I have a suspicion that, once we get back to the bill, the tree will be filled up, cloture will be filed, and, of course, you’ll end up with an absurd ending to an important debate that we would like to engage in.
And it should have been, at the very least, given the same amount of time that we gave to the clean air bill in 1990, which some would argue is not nearly as comprehensive as this one, but took five weeks and had 180 amendments. I mean, it was a real debate.
We’ve had very few real debates over big bills in the last year- and-a-half. The pattern has been: try to jam the minority into agreeing to a few amendments; and, if not, fill up the tree; and file cloture; and have a vote.
You get nowhere. This is one of the least accomplished congresses, and it’s certainly in the time that I’ve been here, which might explain, in part, why they have an approval rating at least 10 points lower than the president of the United States.
QUESTION: Sir, you said commitments have been made; commitments have been broken. Are you merely seeking a commitment here from Senator Reid that he’ll…
MCCONNELL: Well, we had an understanding at the beginning of this Congress, at the risk of being redundant, which was that we would try to achieve the average, which is 17. I’d settle, at this point, for as well as President Clinton, which is 15. That means we have seven to go and we’re running out of time. They have a problem.
MCCONNELL: They have a problem. They’re seven circuit judges short of what they said they would do, and we’re running out of time. And I think it’s time to get about it, and I’m trying to provide them some incentive.
QUESTION: Do you need to see Senator Reid schedule the seven nominees, seven nominees for votes on the floor? I mean, is that what you want to see here?
MCCONNELL: I want them confirmed and on the bench before the end of the Bush presidency.
I’m going to take one more, if there is one, I think.
QUESTION: I’m curious. Senator Reid’s spokesman said that, when the reading is done, Reid was going to try and offer unanimous consent on a couple of amendments to the climate bill, one on (OFF-MIKE) going to offer the Biden-Lugar international (OFF-MIKE) will you at that point let the amendment process begin? Or do you think that we’re going to…
MCCONNELL: As I’ve said in response to other questions, I’m not prepared to announce what we’ll do going forward. We know what we’re doing at the moment; we know what the solution to it is.
Thanks, everybody.

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