Before the Senate officially recessed last night, the chamber unanimously confirmed dozens of executive nominations, including three federal district court judges and one circuit court judge. Because of a Senate rule on recesses of a certain length, the remaining unconfirmed nominees will need to have their appointments resubmitted by the White House when the Senate returns in September.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) came to the floor yesterday evening to request unanimous consent to waive this requirement for John McConnell, a federal district court judge nominee for Rhode Island. While noting how Senators’ preferences on district court nominees for their home states are usually deferred to, he said the re-submission rule “adds nothing to the process other than…deliberate and unnecessary hassle.” However, Republican Senators had already “bolt[ed] town en masse,” so Whitehouse respected “the Senate’s long-standing tradition that the majority party does no business without a member of the minority party present.”
Still, he expressed his frustration about “holding myself back out of respect for the traditions and courtesies of the Senate,” while Republicans — who couldn’t be bothered to tend to their official duties — left him “on the loosing end of a violation of the courtesies and traditions of the Senate”:
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I’m in an interesting predicament here. I am informed that there is no one from the minority party in town that with the end of the session, everybody is headed home, and therefore there is no one around to respond to my request for a unanimous consent. I will confess that I’m inclined to take advantage of this moment by propounding the unanimous consent, which I would obviously win.
The presiding officer would grant the order because there would be no objection. But I also believe that to do so would be inconsistent with the courtesies and the traditions of the Senate. And so I will not take that step at this time, but it is frustrating to be in this position of holding myself back out of respect for the traditions and courtesies of the Senate when I feel that at the moment I’m on the loosing end of a violation of the courtesies and traditions of the Senate.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved McConnell’s nomination by a 13–6 vote in mid-June, and his confirmation has been pending on the Senate floor ever since. Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “has launched an extraordinary campaign against seating McConnell” because he’s represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against companies for asbestos and lead-paint safety violations.
Last week, a Center for American Progress report by Ian Millhiser explained how the Senate Republicans’ rate of obstructing judicial nominees is unprecedented. The obstruction has even “extended like a blanket over” district court nominees, who have been “historically uncontroversial” and largely unopposed. Overall, the Senate has only confirmed around 40 percent of Obama’s judicial nominees, even though “every modern president saw 80 percent or more of his judicial nominees confirmed.” Because Senate rules let the minority party delay and obstruct action on the floor to an extreme degree, Millhiser explains that “to get the 48 pending nominees confirmed, the Senate would have to do nothing else for the next 120 days, working around the clock, 24/7.”
An updated version of Millhiser’s paper indicates that nominees can be confirmed on a somewhat expedited basis, effectively cutting the confirmation time in half. Nevertheless, confirming each of the Obama nominees pending at the time the paper was published “would require a massive 300 days — 10 entire months — of 24 hour work days doing nothing but confirmations.”