Grounds for optimism on the confirmation front? I’m not convinced

Some of us have been clamoring for Mitch McConnell to take special measures to break the logjam on Senate confirmation of Trump nominees for the judiciary and key sub-cabinet positions. One such measure would be to limit the number of hours nominees can be debated on the Senate floor, as the Senate agreed to do when Obama nominees were waiting their turn. Another would be to have the Senate work a full week and maybe even some weekends. A third would be to delay the August recess.

The Majority Leader seems to doubt the need for such measures. He says Democrats are being less obstructionist than before:

The cooperation has picked up some this year. The ability to confirm nominees has improved. The attitude of the Democrats seems to be better. That’s the best way to solve the problem. To get back to some degree of normalcy.

McConnell has shown himself to be an able and effective leader over the years, and I’m in no position to second-guess his assessment of the level of Democratic cooperation. Still, I wonder whether he’s being too sanguine about the ability to confirm nominees.

Currently, I believe, the Senate is confirming around four to six nominees a week. Reportedly, there is a backlog of approximately 300 nominees. I don’t see how the Senate gets from here to there this year.

I also question whether there will be a vote this year on a number of key nominees. It may well be that Democratic cooperation is limited to relatively non-controversial nominees. Controversial ones for key jobs will probably face continued obstruction and the clock might run out on some.

The latest batch of nominees confirmed included two court of appeals judges: Michael Scudder and Amy St. Eve, both of the Seventh Circuit. Without wanting to disparage either judge — they seem fine — I must point out that both had sign off from home state Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. This led to easy approval when they got a vote.

My question is whether, or to what extent, increased Democratic cooperation exists on nominees other than those with Democratic sign-off. In other words, are the Democrats still obstructing qualified nominees who have cleared the relevant committee merely because the nominees are conservatives whom Democrats would rather not see in place?

It seems to me that they are. Four top positions at the Department of Justice remain vacant even though well-qualified individuals were nominated almost a year ago and even though all four cleared committee.

Jeff Clark, nominated to head the Environmental Division, is one example. Eric Dreiband, nominated to head the Civil Rights Division, is another.

It’s unconscionable that President Trump cannot fill these positions with nominees who almost certainly would be confirmed if they could just get a vote. It’s unconscionable that they cannot get a vote. It’s not apparent that, at the rate things are moving, they will get a vote.

One or more of the special measures I listed above — a rules change, longer hours, cutting the recess — may be necessary for that purpose. If so, I hope McConnell will pull the trigger.

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