McConnell says GOP will confirm Trump court picks through pandemic

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPublic awareness campaigns will protect the public during COVID-19 Democrats: A moment in history, use it wisely 'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project MORE (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that Republicans will keep trying to confirm President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE's judicial nominees once the chamber returns to Washington, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

McConnell, asked during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt when they would return to confirming Trump's picks, noted that the Senate is currently scheduled to return on May 4.

"As soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges. ... The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal," McConnell said.

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The GOP leader views judicial nominations, particularly influential circuit court picks, as his top priority when scheduling floor time and has called them the party's best shot at having a long-term influence on the direction of the country.

"Hugh, you and I have discussed this before. My motto for the year is leave no vacancy behind. That hasn’t changed," McConnell added on Tuesday.

Republicans have raced to confirm Trump's judicial nominees, setting a record for the pace of confirming appeals court judges. The Senate has confirmed a total of 193 judicial nominations since Trump took office, including two Supreme Court picks and 51 appeals judges.

The total is the second fastest overall confirmation pace of any U.S. president, according to the Article III Project, a conservative group that works to confirm Trump's judicial nominees.

Judicial nominations have become increasingly partisan in the Senate in recent years. Democrats went "nuclear" to nix the 60-vote filibuster for most judicial picks and all executive nominations.

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Republicans in 2017 got rid of the same hurdle for Supreme Court picks. In 2019 they deployed the nuclear option for a second time to cut down on the amount of time it takes to confirm most executive nominees and district court nominations.

McConnell has also previously taken criticism from Democratic groups for talking about judicial nominees during the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

McConnell on Tuesday appeared open to Hewitt's suggestion that a federal judge could say they are going to retire but only if their replacement is confirmed by the end of the year. Control of the Senate is up for grabs in the November elections as Democrats try to take back the majority starting in 2021.

"I could be wrong, but I think that’s been done before, that retirements have been announced contingent upon replacement," McConnell said. "I’m not certain about that, but that’s a good way to, that’s something worth taking a look at."