Senate leaders Reid, McConnell strike deal on judicial nominees

Senate leaders on Wednesday reached an agreement on a group of President Obama’s judicial nominees, avoiding a showdown that could have brought the chamber to standstill.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cancelled cloture votes on 17 of Obama's nominees set to begin on Wednesday afternoon after reaching the deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Under the agreement, the Senate will put 14 of the 17 judicial nominees up for a vote by May 7th at a pace of two per week, according to a Senate Democratic aide. 

"Which is great because we've been averaging one nomination a week," the aide said. 

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McConnell claimed some victory, noting that as part of the agreement, the Senate would turn next to the JOBS Act that was passed by the House last week. Senate Republicans have been pushing for action on the bill, but Reid said the judicial nominees needed to be dealt with first.

The announcement came after several days of partisan bickering over the confirmation votes, which many Republicans have sought to block in retribution for Obama's recess appointments in January.

Reid said he set up the votes for Wednesday afternoon to prove that Republicans were blocking the nominees “to embarrass President Obama.”

“People have a right under our rules to hold up the next judge in line for 30 hours ... that will show what this is all about ... that will show it’s an effort to embarrass the president and not take into consideration 160 million people who don’t have an ability to have their cases tried in an orderly manner,” Reid said.

McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted the planned cloture votes Wednesday, calling them an election-year gimmick staged by Democrats to make it look as if Republicans are blocking Obama's judicial nominees.

"This is about giving the president what he wants when he wants it," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "And what the president wants is to distract the country from his failed policies that have led to soaring gas prices and high unemployment, and instead try to write a narrative of obstruction for his campaign.

"He doesn't care if he eviscerates the Senate's advice and consent responsibility to do so," McConnell added, calling the now-canceled votes a "heavy-handed power play."

McConnell and other Republicans said the Democratic claims of obstruction are unfounded. McConnell said 76 of 78 of President Obama's district court nominations were approved in his first two years, and that Obama has had more lower court nominees approved in his first three years — 129 — than President Bush had over a four-year period.

Reid and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) argued GOP obstructionism of the confirmation process is resulting in a significantly slower pace of confirmations than under the Geroge W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

“President Obama is being held to a different standard,” Leahy said Tuesday. “[T]hat is wrong. ‘You may elect him but we are going to hold him to a different standard.’ It is wrong.”

The Democratic aide said the following nominees will be brought up for a vote: Gina Marie Groh, David Nuffer, Michael Walter Fitzgerald, Ronnie Abrams, Rudolph Contreras, Miranda Du, Susie Morgan, Gregg Jeffrey Costa, David Campos Guaderrama, Brian C. Wimes, Kristine Gerhard Baker, John Z. Lee, Stephanie Dawn Thacker and Jacqueline H. Nguyen.

Daniel Strauss contributed.

— This story was last updated at 2:47 p.m.

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