By Molly K. Hooper and Daniel Strauss - 03/13/12 08:42 PM EDT
Senate GOP leaders attacked their Democratic counterparts on Tuesday for scheduling action on judicial nominees instead of acting this week on a jobs bill.
But the White House came out in strong support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to invoke cloture to break a Republican filibuster to confirm the 17 court nominees.
On Monday, Reid filed cloture to break a Republican threat to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the move “a needless exercise.”
Fresh off the overwhelming passage of the House-backed JOBS Act last week, McConnell called on Reid to forgo the “manufactured crisis” over 17 judges, and move on the JOBS Act.
“We have a way of dealing with judicial and other appointments in the Senate — this effort to have 17 cloture votes in a row is manufactured crisis. … This is a needless exercise and waste of the Senate’s time,” McConnell told reporters.
Reid noted that he liked the House-passed bill and said it would be acted on in the near future but, at this point, he was resolved to move the judicial nominations.
He also fired back at GOP criticisms that taking up the judicial nominations at this time was a “political gimmick” to distract from the sour economy and strengthen Obama’s reelection bid.
“They could approve these judges in five minutes, so what do they mean, take away from jobs? … The [JOBS] bill is a nice bill, I like it, but it’s not a major jobs-creation bill, as Sen. McConnell said this morning. It would help people, we hope, take some of that money they have in the banks and invest it — that’s what we want done. We’ve said we’re going to move to that,” Reid said.
But Reid failed to say when the Senate would consider the White House-backed, House-approved measure. And GOP senators focused their ire squarely at the decision to delay consideration in lieu of time-consuming votes on judges who were “highly likely” to be confirmed through regular order in the near future.
“[Reid] is making this needlessly controversial … it’s a waste of time because these are highly likely to be confirmed in the next few months,” McConnell said.
Republicans have held off support for a number of nominees since the president made several recess appointments in January when the Senate was technically still convening every few days.
Senate GOP conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said that McConnell would like to sit down and work out a deal with Reid to move some judicial nominees and the JOBS Act.
"I think our leader would love to interact with him on how we might be able to structure a certain amount of judge votes and perhaps a jobs bill at the same time; I think [Reid has] basically said, 'Take it or leave it and go pound sand,' and that's not the way to run the Senate," Thune said.
Ruemmler said that Obama had nominated highly qualified judicial court nominees and that Republicans were just opposing the nominees "for the sake of opposition as opposed to reasonable, objective objections."
"So the bottom line is that the White House strongly supports Leader Reid's move this week," Ruemmler said. "And what the president's asking is that the Senate do its job. President Obama has lived up to his responsibility, and it's time for the legislative branch to live up to its responsibility."
Reid offered to bring small-business legislation up for a vote if McConnell agreed to confirm the judges, but the minority leader refused.
McConnell charged that Reid wants to paint Republicans as obstructionist for holding time-consuming cloture votes.
The No. 2-ranked Senate Republican, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), said that if Democrats acted on the House-passed JOBS Act, the bill could be on Obama’s desk before week’s end.
Kyl told reporters, “Many in the leadership of the other party said that jobs is their No. 1 focus — we have an opportunity to get a bill to the president’s desk perhaps by this Friday, this week, that deals directly with jobs in a way that apparently a majority of Democrats in both bodies agree with and the president agrees with — why wouldn’t we want to do that?”