October 16, 2018
It's no wonder Democrats were desperate to get out of Washington and onto the campaign trail. Of the 35 Senate seats on the ballot this year, Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) party is defending 26. So when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to recess two weeks early, he made sure to exact a price: 15 more judicial confirmations. Now, after tearing through those, McConnell is making it clear -- he's not close to finished.
The Brett Kavanaugh story may have had a happy ending, but the GOP is a long way from forgetting what liberals did to the Supreme Court justice. If anything, the bruising process only made the majority leader more determined. "He's mad as a mama wasp," Senator John Kennedy told Roll Call about McConnell. And he's making Democrats regret it with another full slate of nominations.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), McConnell's partner in the race to confirm the most judges in Senate history, interrupted the October recess to announce that he was holding Judiciary Committee hearings tomorrow – with or without his campaigning colleagues. After all, others have pointed out, the Senate was already scheduled to be in session until the end of the month. It was only after McConnell cut a deal on nominations that the Senate left for their home states.
The Majority Leader made Democrats an offer: "The Senate would adjourn until after the midterm elections, provided Democrats don't force the full 30 hours of debate allowed for each nominee." Anxious for his party to go home and defend their seats, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed. The result? Fifteen more confirmations to benches from the 2nd, 3rd, and 9th Circuit Courts and 12 federal district judges -- bringing the grand total of Senate-approved judicial nominees to a jaw-dropping 84 (including 53 trial judges, 29 appeals judges, and two Supreme Court justices). When Democrats started catching heat for taking such a lopsided deal, Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) insisted they had no choice. "If we stayed here for two or three weeks, we'd probably have done the same thing," he told Politico.
Recess or no recess, Senator Grassley explained, there were important things on the calendar – and he doesn't intend to move them just because Democrats are worried about the elections. "It's unfair to the nominees, who have already flown to Washington D.C. and made travel arrangements for their families to further delay this hearing," Grassley wrote to the committee's top Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). "And it's unfair to the American people." If liberals hadn't been using "delay tactics," he points out, the Senate wouldn't be in this mess. "There are now 154 current and future judicial vacancies, 63 of which are classified as judicial emergencies," he wrote to Feinstein. "The judiciary simply cannot afford further obstruction from your side."
Naturally, the California Democrat (who happens to be in the fight of her campaign life) wrote an indignant letter back. "The Committee has never before held nominations hearings while the Senate is in recess before an election. The handful of nominations hearings that have been held during a recess have been with the minority's consent, which is not the case here -- in fact, we were not even consulted. In addition, three of us on the Democratic side represent the Ninth Circuit, and are unable to return to Washington for a day due to commitments in our states."
That's funny, Senator Grassley replied, since "...you consented to hearings scheduled for October 10, 17, and 24. You made this agreement after I accommodated your numerous requests for postponements and with full knowledge that it was possible the Senate would go into recess in October," Grassley said. If the Left takes its constitutional duty as "seriously" as Feinstein says, they'll be there. If not, Grassley will move ahead on a handful of stellar constitutionalists, including Allison Jones Rushing for the 4th Circuit Court and another full slate of district judgeships.
Regardless of what happens in November, McConnell has already been quite clear that he plans to start moving at break-neck speed to confirm as many of the president's picks as possible until the end of the year. If that means keeping the Senate in session until Christmas, so be it. "I don't think he's bluffing," Senator Kennedy said. Neither do Democrats.
The tag-team of McConnell and Grassley have been so successful that, as the majority leader tweeted before the weekend, "Nearly one out of every six circuit court of appeals judges has been appointed by @POTUS and confirmed by this Republican Senate." If you're wondering what's at stake in this election, you're looking at it.
For more on how this Senate is setting up the courts for generations of success, take some time to listen to Senate McConnell at VVS. It was one of the most compelling speeches of the whole event, and it'll give you some interesting insight into the thinking of GOP leaders.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.