So, this happened:
The Senate is now in recess until Sept. 6
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 15, 2016
What didn’t happen is much of the sort of things that the Senate is supposed to do while it is in session. The Senate did not provide for emergency Zika funding, although Senate Republicans did try to score points against Democrats by pushing a bill laden with poison pills targeting Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act. It also didn’t pass any legislation addressing gun violence, despite the recent shootings in Orlando and Dallas.
Nor did the Senate perform much of its other core function — confirming presidential nominees. The Senate’s Republican majority has thus-far kept to it’s promise not to even hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. And its hardly used the time freed up by not confirming Garland to move forward on other judicial nominations. To the contrary, the Senate confirmed fewer judges since Republicans gained the majority in 2015 than in any comparable period in a two-term presidency since Harry Truman — and the drop-off from recent presidents is quite stark.
Lest anyone conclude that the current Senate merely returned to a confirmation rate that was normal in our grandparents’ heyday, it is important to note that the size of the federal judiciary has grown tremendously since the Truman presidency. On the day that Truman left office, only 291 life-tenured judges were authorized by federal law. Today, that number is 860. Thus, the Senate confirmed nearly as many judges in the comparable period in the Truman administration as it has confirmed under President Obama, despite the fact that there are now more than three times as many judgeships to fill.
Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, moreover, the Senate confirmed significantly less than half of the number of judges confirmed during the comparable period in President George W. Bush’s presidency, and about a third of the judges confirmed during similar periods in the Clinton and Reagan presidencies. Notably, Reagan, Clinton and Bush all faced senates that were controlled by the opposite party during their final years in office.
(Although President Richard Nixon was elected to serve a second term, this chart does not include him because he resigned before the election year in his second term.)
Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) indicated last May that he would invoke the so-called “Thurmond Rule,” after the Senate’s recess begins. Less a rule than an excuse that senators invoke when they do not want to confirm judges late in a presidential term, Grassley’s invocation of this supposed rule indicates that he plans to slow down confirmations even more — or possibly even halt them altogether.
And there are few signs that the pace will pick up if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election and Republicans retain control over the Senate. To the contrary, McConnell has strongly suggested that he will not confirm anyone Clinton nominates to the Supreme Court either — at one point hinting that he will give a veto power to the National Rifle Association over any Supreme Court nominees.
Meanwhile, McConnell’s been quite open about his desire to see Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump fill vacancies on the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Senate leader claimed last month that the overtly racist presidential candidate is “going to appoint the right kind of person to the Supreme Court.”