In a column called “Mitch McConnell is winning the long game,” George Will praises the Majority Leader. And not without justification. Though McConnell is sometimes criticized by conservatives for lack of legislative successes, Senate Republicans have accomplished quite a bit under his leadership, notwithstanding the slimness of their majority. Will quotes McConnell’s recitation of the major accomplishments during the past 18 months:
The largest tax reduction in 31 years has contributed to the best economy in 18 years. Defense spending is up, many Dodd-Frank banking rules and the Obamacare individual mandate have been repealed. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, blocked for 38 years, has been approved, as has a reconfigured National Labor Relations Board, a source of much Obama administration mischief. The Congressional Review Act, under which Congress can disapprove many regulations issued by federal agencies, has been used 19 times since it was enacted in 1996 — 18 of them during this Congress.
And then there are the judges. Not just Justice Gorsuch, but also 21 court of appeals judges who have been confirmed.
There is one area, though, where McConnell has come up short — confirming nominees for key positions in the Trump administration, especially in the Department of Justice. Currently, nominees are pending for four key Assistant Attorney General position: for the Criminal Division, the Civil Division, the Civil Rights Division, and the Environmental & Natural Resources Division.
The Civil Rights Division is ground-zero for issues of major concern to conservatives, including racial preferences and quotas, voting, local police practices, religious freedom, transgender issues, and much more. In the absence of Trump’s nominee to head the division, Eric Dreiband, liberals still call the tune there to a distressing degree.
The Environmental & Natural Resources Division is a critical partner of the EPA in the rolling back of oppressive and needless regulations. Every stride Scott Pruitt’s EPA has made will be challenged in court. Unless the Justice Department is able successfully to defend these actions, Pruitt’s efforts will be for naught.
Jeff Clark, Trump’s nominee to head this Division is extraordinarily well qualified to defend Pruitt’s actions. In his absence, left-leaning career lawyers are unlikely to provide the best defense consistently.
The nominations of Dreiband and Clark have been languishing for about a year. The primary fault lies, not with McConnell, but with (1) Sen. Cory Gardner and (2) Senate Democrats.
It was Gardner who held these nomination hostage over his disagreement with Attorney General Sessions over marijuana. The Civil Rights and Environmental Divisions have nothing to do with enforcing marijuana laws, of course. Nonetheless, in the name of weed, Gardner saw fit to prevent conservatives from running these key divisions in the name of weed. With Republicans like him, who needs Democrats.
Gardner finally lifted his holds. But Senate Democrats are preventing votes on the four high level Justice Department nominees by demanding 30 hours of floor debate on an ungodly and unprecedented number of Trump nominees. This is a purely stalling tactic and it has been extremely effective. Chuck Schumer must be over-the-moon.
Here’s where Mitch McConnell shoulders some of the blame. The Senate is working basically part-time, often just three days a week. With so few hours of floor time available, with frequent recesses, and with Democrats insisting on 30 hours of floor debate on so many nominees, the confirmation process is moving at a snail’s pace.
People whose business it is to know about these things express little confidence that Dreiband, Clark, and the others will get a floor vote in 2018. In 2019, any conservative nominee for anything will be dead in the water if Republicans lose their Senate majority.
George Will is right. Majority Leader McConnell’s accomplishments during the past 18 months are impressive. However, he needs to get Trump’s Justice Department nominees an up-or-down vote this year. It’s fine to play “the long game,” as Will puts it. But this particular game has gone on too long.
Straightening out the NLRB, a source of much mischief as McConnell says, is a nice accomplishment. But key divisions at the DOJ are a source of more mischief than the NLRB. They need to be straightened out too. This cannot be accomplished unless Trump’s nominees are confirmed.