Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has rightfully earned the reputation of running a do-nothing Senate. More than 1,000 days have elapsed since the upper chamber approved a budget. He’s currently ignoring the House-passed JOBS Act and actively opposing steps to lower gas prices.
Now, in a blatant political stunt, Reid is attempting to blame the Republican minority for the Senate’s failure to confirm 17 of President Obama’s district court nominees.
>> UPDATE: Realizing his stunt wouldn’t work, Reid reversed course late Wednesday, agreeing to deal with Republicans on some of the nominees. Read the story on Scribe.
“Republicans have refused to allow us to even vote — won’t even allow us to vote — on these qualified judicial nominees,” Reid declared. “Republicans have prevented the Senate from doing its constitutional duty and that’s what it is.”
Reid should be commended for his hyperbole.
Let’s begin with the fact that Reid is majority leader, the one who sets the Senate’s agenda and determines the floor schedule. So if Reid is unsatisfied with the pace of progress on Obama’s nominees, then he has only himself to blame.
Conservatives aren’t blocking any votes because they aren’t filibustering. According to statistics compiled by the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Obama has secured approval for 129 district-court judges in three years. That’s more than President George W. Bush’s 120 confirmations over his final four years in office.
There’s also the fact that Obama has sent fewer nominees than Bush to the Senate. In the first three years of his presidency, Bush nominated 215 district court judges; Obama made 173 nominations.
That follows a pattern under Obama. Of the 83 judicial vacancies that currently exist, he’s made 39 nominations, leaving 44 openings unaddressed. And 17 of those nominees haven’t yet been approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.
That means an astonishing 73 percent of current judicial vacancies are awaiting action from either the White House or the Senate Judiciary Committee. What’s more, it has been reported that the American Bar Association secretly declared a significant number of the president’s nominees to be “not qualified.”
When Reid has brought Obama’s nominees to the floor for a vote, the president has a near-perfect record, including the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) reminded Reid yesterday.
So while Reid would like to paint Republicans as obstructionists, his criticism is misdirected.
Conservatives should use Reid’s stunt to remind Americans about the unconstitutional appointments Obama made earlier this year. In January, while Congress was still in session, Obama ignored the Senate’s advise-and-consent role and purported to unilaterally appointed three people to seats on the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Obama’s actions prompted an initial outcry from Republicans. But with few exceptions, they’ve acquiesced. In the two months following Obama’s illegal appointments, the Senate has confirmed seven judicial nominees. That alone is a strong rebuttal to Reid’s bombastic statement that “Republicans have refused to allow us to even vote.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is one of the few conservatives who has vowed on principle to vote against each nominee until the Senate properly considers the four illegally appointed individuals. Lee’s approach is different from a filibuster, which requires a 60-vote threshold. He simply wants a recorded up-or-down vote on each nominee.
“We simply cannot continue to afford nominees near-complete deference until President Obama rescinds his unconstitutional appointments and restores the Senate’s proper constitutional role in the confirmation process,” Lee explained. “I cannot sit idly by and watch as the president openly violates the Constitution and ignores a century of Senate rules.”
Lee spoke at Heritage last month about the long-term consequences, noting that he would be equally outraged if a Republican president was pursuing the same strategy. Watch our exclusive interview.
Reid, however, appears perfectly comfortable with Obama’s approach. He suggested that more illegal “recess” appointments could be coming. He warned, “we will have no alternative but to take action.” Reid’s actions also reveal his blatant hypocrisy. He originated the use of pro-forma sessions to avoid recess appointments under the previous administration, and that’s more proof that Reid’s actions are nothing more than partisan grandstanding.
While Senate conservatives have not filibustered, they would be well within their prerogatives to do so. After all, as Heritage’s Hans von Spakovsky noted, former Senator Robert Byrd held up more than 70 nominations and the promotions of 5,000 military personnel over recess appointments that he believed pushed the limits of the recess appointment power, even though the Senate actually was in recess. That’s in contrast to the unconstitutional and invalid act of this president of making recess appointments while the Senate was not in recess.
Now is not the time for political theater. Reid, unfortunately, appears more willing to appease his liberal allies when he should be focusing on issues of job creation and gas prices.