GOP seeks to counter Reid, White House push on judges

Senate Republican leaders Tuesday attacked their Democratic counterparts for scheduling action on judicial nominees instead of acting this week on a House-passed jobs bill.

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. 

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“Republicans have used every confirmation tactic available to them to slow the confirmation process down to a halt,” White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler said Tuesday on a conference call. 

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.” 

Reid’s maneuver and the White House’s renewed push for the nominees are aimed at filling empty seats in the judiciary branch and portraying the GOP as obstructionists this election year.

Democrats said the nominees are not controversial, and McConnell acknowledged Tuesday that Republicans will approve most of them in due time.

But the Kentucky legislator said the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly last week, should come first. He called on Reid to forgo the “manufactured crisis” over the 17 judges.

“We have a way of dealing with judicial and other appointments in the Senate,” McConnell told reporters. “This effort to have 17 cloture votes in a row … is a needless exercise and waste of the Senate’s time.”

Asked if Senate Republicans will back him up on the scheduled cloture votes, McConnell responded, “Well, we’ll find out when we turn to it. My hope would be that we not move forward with these judges in this manner at this time … I don’t know why we would want to do this other than to try to convince all of you [in the media] and the public that Senate Republicans are obstructing.”

In recent weeks, the Senate has worked in a bipartisan fashion on a range of issues, including legislation banning congressional insider trading and a long-stalled transportation bill. 

The standoff on judicial nominations threatens to shatter the recent truce between the parties and delay much of what is left on the Senate’s agenda in 2012. 

Reid noted that he supports the House-passed measure and would move it in the near future. Initially, Senate Democratic leaders said they would offer a companion bill, but Reid indicated that plan changed after the House measure was approved 390-23 last Thursday.

Throughout this year, Reid has made the transportation bill a top priority. On Tuesday, he said that bill would create or save nearly 3 million jobs. 

Reid fired back at GOP criticism that taking up the judicial nominations at this time is 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 … 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,” Reid said. “We’ve said we’re going to move to that.” 

Reid did not say when the Senate would consider the bill, which Obama has endorsed, and GOP senators zeroed in on the lack of a clear timetable, adding that Obama has had more judicial nominees approved in his first three years than President George W. Bush did in his last four.

“[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 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,” Thune said. “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.”

Ruemmler said that Obama has nominated highly qualified judicial nominees whom Republicans are opposing solely “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.”

The No. 2-ranked Senate Republican Leader, 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 the 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?” 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backed the JOBS Act, but disputed claims it would help right the nation’s economy, calling the legislation “meager.”