As ThinkProgress previously reported, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed seventeen petitions to break Senate Republican filibusters on as many judges earlier this week. Initially, McConnell reacted to these petitions with an increasingly implausible list of reasons why the Senate could not vote on these nominees right away, before finally admitting that he was opposing the nominees because Reid made Senate Republicans “look bad” by pointing out their obstructionism.
As it turns out, this was not an effective messaging strategy for Mr. McConnell, who has now agreed to allow most of the seventeen judges to move forward:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the agreement on the floor but said they wouldn’t provide any details until they briefed their respective caucuses later in the afternoon. However, aides said the deal will allow Democrats to move 12 district court judges and 2 circuit court judges by May 7.
Now, let’s be clear, this is not a perfect deal. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why every judge who has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee could not be confirmed today — and there is certainly no reason why judges who received little if any opposition in committee need to wait as long as May 7. It’s also inexcusable that one of President Obama’s most outstanding nominees, Ninth Circuit nominee Paul Watford, is not on the list of judges being confirmed (a list of the judges is below the jump).
Nevertheless, today’s deal is a massive improvement over the status quo. According to data provided by the Federal Judicial Center, the 112th Congress has confirmed judges at a rate of about 4.75 judges per month. Today’s deal, by contrast, means that fourteen new judges will be confirmed in just two months. This is a significant uptick — even if it is barely enough to make a dent in the 83 currently existing judicial vacancies — and Reid deserves credit for making this happen.
Indeed, there is an important lesson here for Reid and for progressive lawmakers in general. McConnell remains the most obstructionist Senate Leader in recent history, and he has been a constant barrier to ensuring our nation functions effectively from the moment President Obama took office. Nevertheless, we know now that he can be forced to back down. Harry Reid decided to fight this week, and he was rewarded for it. He should remember that fact the next time McConnell stands in the way.