Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus

 

The liberal group Demand Justice is knocking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE (R-Ky.) for discussing judicial nominations during the coronavirus pandemic, urging voters to tell him "no more distractions."

The progressive outside group is going up with a digital ad, obtained by The Hill ahead of its release, that will run on both Facebook and Instagram, targeting Kentucky and national audiences.

"The country needs emergency relief now, not more extremist judges who will vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act and take away health care from millions when they need it most. American lives are at stake. McConnell needs to get back to work," said Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice.

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The more than half-minute ad starts by referencing McConnell's comments in a recent Hugh Hewitt interview that the impeachment trial distracted Congress from acting quickly on the coronavirus early on.

"He would know. At the height of the crisis, McConnell took a three-day weekend to celebrate with Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughWhy the Senate must vote against Justin Walker's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court Senate panel sends Trump appeals court pick to floor in party-line vote Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony MORE, and now McConnell is slowing down new relief for out-of-work Americans," the ad's narrator says, referring to the GOP leader's comments urging House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNRCC turns up heat on vulnerable Democrats over Omar's call to abolish police Shocking job numbers raise hopes for quicker recovery Engel primary challenger hits million in donations MORE (D-Calif.) to "stand down" on a fourth bill.

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"She needs to stand down on the notion that we're going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis," he told The Washington Post.

McConnell added that "what's really happening here is, she's looking for a way to jam us."

The GOP leader sparked criticism last month when he let the Senate leave for its normal three-day weekend as Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner Mnuchin The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Association of American Railroads Ian Jefferies says no place for hate, racism or bigotry in rail industry or society; Trump declares victory in response to promising jobs report Trump signs bill giving businesses more time to spend coronavirus loans The Hill's Coronavirus Report: BIO's Michelle McMurry-Heath says 400 projects started in 16 weeks in biotech firms to fight virus, pandemic unemployment total tops 43 million MORE negotiated and reached a final deal on the second stimulus package that passed late on a Friday night. McConnell, however, was spotted in Kentucky on Friday at an event with Kavanaugh for the swearing-in of a federal judge.

The Senate returned to Washington the following Monday and passed the second coronavirus bill days later. Then, McConnell had Senate Republicans quickly begin working on the third bill 
a $2.2 trillion package that Congress passed last week.

"Instead, he says, 'Of course we'll go back to judges. My motto for the rest of the year is leave no vacancy behind,'" the ad continues, using audio of McConnell. The add asserts that the GOP leader is intent on confirming "more judges that want to rip away health care from millions of Americans in the middle of a public health crisis."

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"Tell Mitch McConnell, no more distractions. Tell Mitch McConnell, put the pandemic response first," the narrator finishes.

McConnell was asked by Hewitt, who frequently asks senators about judicial nominations, if the Senate would vote on more judges and if he expected a Supreme Court vacancy.

"I’ve heard nothing about any retirements at the Supreme Court, but, of course, we will go back to judges. You know, Hugh, you and I have talked about this before. My motto for the rest of the year is leave no vacancy behind," McConnell said. 

The GOP leader has said repeatedly that he views judicial nominations as a top priority. The Senate has confirmed 193 judges for Trump, including setting a record pace on the influential circuit court nominees. But Democrats and their allies argue that many of the nominees are unqualified and outside the judicial mainstream.

McConnell and his colleagues have been encouraging some federal judges appointed by Republican presidents to retire this year in order to ensure that their seats will be filled by ideological allies, The New York Times reported last month.

The ad comes a day after Trump announced that he would be nominating Justin Walker, a federal judge in Kentucky and a protégé of Kavanaugh, to a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the second-most important court in the country.

Walker, 37, was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky just five months ago.

He was a controversial nominee for the district court seat and was approved by committee and confirmed on the Senate floor in party-line votes. Walker was rated "not qualified" by the American Bar Association for his lack of trial experience, having apparently never tried a case in court.

But Walker is a favorite of McConnell, who praised him on Friday as "a brilliant and fair jurist who reveres the Constitution and our nation’s founding principles."