He changed the rules to make it easier to confirm President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court picks. He tossed out Senate traditions to make it easier to confirm Trump’s circuit judges. So, naturally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to adjust the rules again to make it easier to confirm the rest of Trump’s nominees to lifetime seats on federal courts.
The Senate will vote this week to reduce its debate time for most nominees ― district court judges and lower-level executive nominees ― from 30 hours to two hours. This will not apply to Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court nominees or circuit court nominees.
Without a whiff of irony, McConnell, whose greatest legacy is denying a Supreme Court seat and dozens of other federal court seats to President Barack Obama, said Thursday that the rule change is necessary because of Democrats’ “unprecedented obstruction” of Trump’s nominees.
“Obstruction for obstruction’s sake,” bemoaned McConnell, who was so Machiavellian about denying Obama the ability to confirm judges that he drove Republicans to block their own nominees and fueled a vacancy crisis on federal courts.
It would take 67 votes to make the rules change. All 45 Democrats, along with the two independent senators who caucus with them, are expected to vote against it. But the 53 Republicans could still get it done if they invoke the so-called “nuclear option,” a more confrontational approach that would allow them to change the rules with a simple majority, or 51 votes. It’s not clear if McConnell is prepared to go nuclear to make the change, but he’s previously suggested that he is.
Since Trump became president, McConnell has used the nuclear option to lower the vote threshold for confirming Supreme Court nominees from 60 to a simple majority. He’s also endorsed repeated violations of the “blue slip” rule, a Senate tradition of only moving forward with a judicial nominee when both of his or her home-state senators sign off on it.
Those changes, along with his latest push to make another rule change, are all part of McConnell’s grand plan: to use Trump’s presidency to put piles of young, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, anti-voting rights ideologues into lifetime federal court seats before Trump is up for reelection in 2020.
“He just wants to confirm as many as possible in case Trump loses,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on judicial nominations.