Senate Republicans just rammed through another sweeping rule change that will allow President Trump to further speed up the remaking of the nation’s courts with conservative judges.
On a strictly party-line vote, with just two Republicans breaking ranks, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deployed the so-called nuclear option and blew up the Senate’s filibuster rule to push through a package that will enable the GOP to approve judges faster, by requiring just two hours of debate for district court judges and sub-Cabinet nominees, instead of the previous 30 hours required.
McConnell claimed the change is necessary because Democrats have used delay tactics and required the GOP to use up the entire 30 hours of debate even on appointees with broad bipartisan support.
“What we’ve got going on here is totally and completely unacceptable,” McConnell told his colleagues in a heated speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
It’s an audacious move considering McConnell blocked former President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from ever even getting a hearing in the Senate. Then McConnell used the nuclear option and ended the filibuster for all Supreme Court nominees, which former Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democrats had left intact for the high court, requiring those justices to get at least 60 votes, instead of the current 51 required for confirmation.
Forcing the agenda
The move left Democrats furious— and terrified that McConnell is doing permanent damage to the nation’s judiciary.
“He’s been intent on destroying the integrity of our courts – first by packing the Supreme Court and now he wants to pack the district and circuit courts,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told VICE News while walking outside the Capitol. “He’s doing great destruction to America.”
Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine were the only two lawmakers to cross party lines and oppose the rules change.
And many Democrats say McConnell’s move is a blatant attempt to enact a conservative agenda through the judiciary, since the GOP can’t pass their policies through Congress.
“They have realized that even when they controlled the presidency and even when they controlled the House and the Senate, many of their favorite ideas are so extreme that the American public won’t accept them and they can’t make Republicans vote for them,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told VICE News. “So they’re going to capture the court and force their agenda on the American public through pliant judges.”
But Republicans blame now Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for deploying the filibuster on one of former President George W. Bush’s nominees back in 2002, which they say has led to the erosion of trust on both sides of the aisle.
"He poisoned the well"
“He poisoned the well,” former Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told VICE News at the Capitol.
But McConnell has helped Trump set the record for getting more judicial vacancies filled than any of his predecessors, which has Democrats scratching their heads in disbelief that the GOP changed the rules again.
“It simply isn’t necessary. Nobody has had more judges in the period of time than Donald Trump,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told VICE News. “It’s totally unnecessary— unless it’s just to take one more step to increase friction in the body, which it will.”
Still, Republicans argue their record would be even better if Democrats didn’t stall other nominees.
“That’s because we’ve worked hard at it with no help from them,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told VICE News. “It’s absolutely necessary, because we can’t do anything else on legislation because we’re trying to fill these vacancies on sub-Cabinet positions and non-controversial nominees.”
Democrats say McConnell and Trump’s legacy will now play out away from our television screens.
“I think he’s totally intent on packing the courts with as many conservative ideological…people as possible,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told VICE News. “That is one of his major, major goals and he is very proud that he’s pushing these people out for lifetime appointments as quickly as he can.”
Cover: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks to members of the media alongside Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., following a Senate policy luncheon, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)