WASHINGTON ― Democrats on Thursday agreed to expedite votes on 15 of President Donald Trump’s nominees to lifetime federal court seats so they could allow vulnerable members to campaign less than a month before the November midterm elections.
Normally, Senate rules require up to 30 hours of waiting time for each nominee ― something Democrats typically take advantage of to delay action on confirming Trump judges. But with a handful of endangered Democrats up for re-election this year, they agreed to vote immediately on three Circuit Court judges and 12 District Court judges, who were all successfully confirmed on Thursday, and head home on recess.
It’s another major win for Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose No. 1 priority is filling up federal courts with young, conservative judges in order to tilt the judiciary to the right for decades. Roughly 1 in 6 U.S. circuit court seats is now filled by a judge nominated by Trump. With Thursday’s tally, the Senate has now confirmed 84 Trump judges over the past two years, including two Supreme Court nominees. And with Republicans likely to hold the Senate next year, that number is only going to continue to grow.
A similar dynamic also played out in August when Democrats agreed to confirm 15 Trump judicial nominees in order to go home and campaign for the election.
Progressives are furious that Democrats keep allowing Trump to reshape the courts for generations without putting up a fight, especially after a bitter and bruising fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It would have taken only one Democratic senator to say “no” to letting the nominees through this week, but none did.
“There is no reason Democrats should be making any deals with Mitch McConnell to make it easier to confirm more radical conservatives to the courts. Especially not after Kavanaugh,” tweeted Leah Ghostberg, the co-executive director of the advocacy group Indivisible.
Chris Kang, chief counsel for the liberal group Demand Justice, also noted that “in eight years, Obama never had 15 judges confirmed in a single day. Because McConnell wouldn’t allow it.”
Still, Democrats faced a tough decision. McConnell has all the leverage in the fight ― only two of his members are considered vulnerable this cycle, while Democrats count a half-dozen senators, most of whom wanted to go home and defend their seats. Moreover, the nominees the Senate confirmed on Thursday likely all would have gotten through even if Democrats objected and forced McConnell to stay in session through the end of the month.
More broadly, the stakes in November for Democrats are extremely high. If they succeed in retaining most if not all of their endangered seats, they stand a (currently small) chance of winning the Senate. But even if they don’t win, with a larger Democratic minority they could stand a better chance at defeating GOP priorities on health care, taxes, immigration, and border security.
November’s results also have farther reaching implications. The more seats Democrats hold in 2018, for example, the easier it could be for them to win back the Senate in the 2020 presidential election.
Progressives, however, say that Democrats are only giving Trump and McConnell more time to appoint even more lifetime nominees, including a replacement for Kavanaugh on the powerful D.C. Circuit. Congress is facing a packed post-election legislative agenda, and allowing more Trump judges now only gives Republicans more room to work with in coming months.
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