GOP threatens weekend work on judicial nominees

GOP threatens weekend work on judicial nominees
© Getty Images

Republicans are digging in ahead of a looming battle over President Trump's judicial nominees. 

Senate GOP leadership wants to clear four picks this week for the circuit courts — which are second in line to the Supreme Court — amid pressure from conservatives to pick up the pace. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal Pelosi, Schumer say White House declined T coronavirus deal COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE (R-Ky.) warned that Republicans would confirm all of the nominees, even if it meant keeping lawmakers in town through a rare weekend session. 

“We'll confirm all of them this week no matter how long it takes,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCOVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal MORE (R-Texas) echoed that the circuit court positions were important enough to “stay in session over the weekend or night.”

In addition to a final vote on Trevor McFadden to be United States district judge for the District of Columbia, McConnell has teed up four circuit court picks: Amy Barrett to be U.S. circuit judge for the 7th Circuit, Joan Larsen to be U.S. circuit judge for the 6th Circuit, Allison Eid to be U.S. circuit judge for the 10th Circuit and Stephan's Bibas to be U.S. circuit judge for the 3rd Circuit.

Republicans and outside groups rallied around Barrett's nomination during a press conference in the Capitol on Monday.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee questioned Barrett over her Catholicism during her confirmation hearing, asking whether her religious beliefs would impact rulings on controversial issues including abortion. 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Democrats want Biden to debate Trump despite risks MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told Barrett that every religion has a “dogma” and "the dogma lives loudly within you." 

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-Ill.) asked Barrett if she considers herself an “orthodox Catholic.”

Barrett co-wrote a paper as a law student exploring whether a Catholic judge should recuse themselves from a death penalty case. 

GOP senators hit back at those comments on Monday, with Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, calling the Democratic questions “entirely inappropriate.”

“My Democratic colleagues insisted on engaging in ugly anti-Catholic rhetoric,” he said.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker Trump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary MORE (R-Texas) called Barrett's nomination a test for the Senate and if Democrats would support “establishing an unconstitutional religious test.”

“If the message of Democrats is Catholics need not apply ... then that is a sad, sad testament to where this body is," he added. 

With Republicans struggling to score political and legislative wins despite having the first unified GOP government in a decade, they're increasingly focusing on judicial nominations as a way to secure a long-term legacy. 

Asked about GOP accomplishments this year, McConnell frequently points to Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation. He also announced in 2016 that Republicans would not give a hearing or a vote to whomever then-President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's immigration plan has serious problems Hearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony MORE nominated to fill the late Antonin Scalia's seat. 

Trump currently has 149 vacancies in the federal judiciary to fill, with nominations currently made for 50 of those spots.  
Conservative, and allied outside groups, have complained that the Senate isn't moving fast enough to confirm nominees and pressured McConnell to either curb the amount of time required or keep the Senate in around the block. 

The Judicial Crisis Network had been prepared to target McConnell specifically, urging the Kentucky Republican to speed up the chamber’s consideration of Trump’s judicial nominees. But the group said earlier this month that it was holding off after outreach from McConnell’s office.

Carrie Severino, JCN's chief counsel and policy director, lauded McConnell's "commitment to ensuring the confirmation of all of President Trump’s outstanding nominees” after he set up this week's slate of votes.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPostal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period A three-trillion dollar stimulus, but Charles Schumer for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE (D-N.Y.) questioned McConnell's floor schedule on Monday calling it the “first time in my memory that the Senate is being asked to process four circuit court judges in a single week.” 

“The Leader has chosen to try to accomplish through the courts what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the legislative process,” Schumer added, questioning rhetorically what was driving the schedule. 

Senate Democrats nixed the 60-vote filibuster for lower-court nominees in 2013, meaning they can't block any of Trump's picks on their own.

But they can use the Senate's rulebook to drag out debate time. If they force the full 30 hours of debate for each nomination the Senate could be forced to stay in through the weekend or kick some of the votes to next week. 

Democrats argue that many of Trump's picks are either unqualified or too ideologically extreme. But they're also under growing pressure from their base, and outside progressive groups, to attempt to block the president's picks. 

A coalition of progressive groups — NARAL, Daily Kos, MoveOn, Every Voice, Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee — urged McConnell and Schumer to stop processing Trump's nominations in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller's announcement of charges against former Trump campaign staff on Monday. 

“With this legal storm now forming directly over the White House and high-ranking Trump associates, the United States Senate should immediately halt all action on all lifetime appointments to the federal bench until the investigation is complete,” the groups said. 

They added that it is “far past time that the Senate stop being complicit as Trump and his associates do tremendous damage to our nation and, according to Special Counsel, break the law.”