Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

McConnell’s silent governing failure

Updated
For several years, Mitch McConnell watched from his perch as Senate Minority Leader, convinced he could do better if given the chance. And now, thanks to the 2014 midterms, McConnell has the office he’s always wanted: he’s the Senate Majority Leader.
 
But if the Kentucky Republican hoped to prove his ability to govern effectively, and lead the upper chamber as it’s supposed to be led, he’s coming up far short. The Huffington Post reported last night, for example, on McConnell’s approach to judicial nominees.
Senate Republicans have been slow-walking President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees all year. It looks like things are about to get even less productive.
 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he doesn’t expect to confirm any of Obama’s circuit court nominees for the remainder of his time in office, a blow to White House efforts to fill empty federal court seats despite working with a Republican-controlled Senate.
“So far, the only judges we’ve confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators,” McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt yesterday. Asked if he expects that to be the case through 2016, McConnell said, “I think that’s highly likely, yeah.”
 
Now, some of you are probably thinking this is normal. President Obama’s second term is starting to wind down; the opposition party controls the Senate; so it stands to reason that the GOP majority would scrap plans to confirm qualified court nominees. Perhaps, the argument goes, McConnell is doing exactly what Democrats did when they had a similar opportunity.
 
It would be a credible argument if it were in any way true.
 
So far this year, the seventh year of Obama’s presidency, McConnell has allowed four confirmation votes on judicial nominees. At this point in 2007, in the seventh year of the Bush/Cheney presidency, soon after Democrats took the Senate majority for the first time in several years, the Democratic majority had already confirmed 18 of Bush’s court nominees.
 
Looking ahead, McConnell believes the total for all of 2015 should remain at four judicial confirmations. But in 2007 overall, Senate Dems confirmed 40 of Bush’s court nominees.
 
In 2016, McConnell projects a total of zero judicial confirmation votes. In 2008, Bush’s last year in office, Senate Democrats confirmed 28 more of Bush’s court nominees. [Update: these totals have been revised to include Bush nominees confirmed by voice votes and by unanimous consent.]
 
Taken together, Senate Democrats confirmed 68 of Bush’s judicial nominees in the final two years of the Republican administration. As far as Mitch McConnell is concerned, Senate Republicans are content to conform a small fraction of that total.
 
Remember, Harry Reid and Pat Leahy weren’t exactly fans of the Bush administration. It’s just that Senate Dems believed they had a duty to govern responsibly. McConnell, evidently, believes otherwise. Jonathan Bernstein’s recent take on this for Bloomberg Politics, in which he argued that there’s “simply no precedent” for this, rings true:
This isn’t about the specific nominees. Mostly, this is just an expression of contempt for the man in the Oval Office – and, really, contempt for the Constitution and the senators’ oath of office.
 
It is the Senate’s duty to defeat judicial nominees it believes (within reason) are outside the mainstream, and it absolutely should exercise the leverage it is given by the Constitution to secure influence over executive branch departments and agencies through confirmations. That’s not what’s happening here. McConnell and the Republicans are undermining the constitutional order by simply ignoring their responsibilities. That’s a big deal, and the press and anyone who cares about a functional government should be angry.
 * Update: Looking at the transcript of the interview, the Huffington Post’s take may not be entirely accurate. McConnell said he might be willing to confirm some additional district court nominee who’ve “been signed off on by Republican senators.”

He’s still obviously treating Obama’s judicial nominees far differently than Democrats treated Bush’s, but the total for this Congress may yet exceed the grand total of four approved thus far. I’ve updated some of the above text accordingly.

Federal Courts, Federal Judiciary, Judicial Nominees and Mitch McConnell

McConnell's silent governing failure

Updated