If you've been following the judicial confirmation wars of recent years, you're already aware that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly taken off the gloves, forcing Democrats to live by the hardball partisan rules they've established over the course of numerous ends-driven power grabs. He detonated Harry Reid's nuclear option after the minority party launched an unprecedented filibuster against Justice Gorsuch's nomination, and has subsequently trimmed and stymied other delay tactics, as Democrats have adjusted their approach to across-the-board resistance. With some Democrats already fuming over the current consequences of the status quo they helped establish (President Trump and Leader McConnell have teamed up to confirm judges at a record pace), additional changes may be on the way. In a Politico op/ed, McConnell lays out his case -- noting that the ongoing problem is not limited to judicial nominees:
It’s been 354 days and counting in Senate purgatory for the president’s nominee to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Two-hundred eighty-seven days and counting for the under secretary of state for management. Noncontroversial lower court nominees have languished for weeks and weeks — for no discernible reason — before they, too, were confirmed unanimously. These are just a few examples of the historic obstruction Senate Democrats have visited upon President Trump’s nominees for two years and counting. Since January 2017, for the first time in memory, a minority has exploited procedure to systematically obstruct a president from staffing up his administration. This new, across-the-board obstruction is unfair to the president and, more importantly, to the American people. Left unchecked, it is guaranteed to create an unsustainable precedent that would see every future presidency of either party obstructed in the same mindless way. The Senate needs to restore normalcy. And this week, we will vote to do just that.
McConnell recites some powerful statistics that justify his course of action, pointing out the truly extraordinary abuse of forced, time-consuming cloture votes by Senate Democrats during President Trump's first two years on the job:
Across the first two years of each of the six presidents preceding President Trump, the Senate only had to hold 24 total cloture votes on nominations. That’s the once-rare procedural step that unlocks an up-or-down confirmation vote even though a minority has sought to block it. And in President Trump’s first two years? We had to hold a stunning 128 cloture votes to advance nominations. Our Democratic colleagues made the Senate jump over five times as many hurdles as in the equivalent periods in the Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations combined. Because of this obstruction, the Senate’s progress in filling important executive branch positions has been insufficient. Crucial jobs are still being held empty out of political spite. More nominees whom I suspect would be confirmed without opposition are still being delayed indefinitely because our colleagues cannot finish grieving their loss in 2016.
Democrats' rebuttal to this mostly amounts to "Merrick Garland" -- which, as we've analyzed previously -- isn't much of an argument at all. Republicans' 2016 blockade of President Obama's third SCOTUS nominee had ample historical precedent, and followed the recommendations of prominent Democrats during recent Republican presidencies. And the Senate majority's willingness to link arms and block Garland was unquestionably informed by their opponents' stunning 2013 'nuclear' rules change. McConnell writes that previous bipartisan reforms on the upper chamber's handling of presidential nominations should serve as the template for additional shifts, noting that an Obama-era compromise garnered 78 votes. He also targets Democrats who say they favor his proposals -- so long as they don't apply to the current presidential term:
Our proposal would only reduce the time a minority can keep delaying lower-tier nominations after a majority has invoked cloture. This would keep the Senate floor moving, saving time that is currently tied up in inoffensive nominations that senators don’t even really debate. And, at last, it would let President Trump fill important vacancies at a more reasonable pace. Democrats overwhelmingly supported changes like these in 2013 when they helped President Obama. And privately, many of our Democratic colleagues tell us they’d be happy to support this new proposal, too — as long as we postpone its effective date until January 2021, when they hope there will be a Democrat occupying the White House. Give me a break. A rules change is either a good idea or it isn’t.