WASHINGTON -- It appears Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has had it with Republicans refusing to let judicial nominees get votes. So he moved forward without them on Wednesday night.
Reid filed a so-called cloture motion that sets up votes on four federal district court nominees who have been waiting all year for action, but were stymied by Republican delays. The nominees include Jeffrey Meyer for the District of Connecticut, James Moody Jr. for the Eastern District of Arkansas, James Donato for the Northern District of California, and Beth Freeman for the Northern District of California.
The move marks the first time this year that Reid has taken it into his own hands to move on stalled judicial nominees. For weeks, he and other Democrats have tried to work out "unanimous consent" agreements to allow certain nominees to immediately get votes, but Republicans have refused. By filing a cloture motion, Reid can set up votes on the nominees without the consent of Republicans, though the process is more time-consuming. It appears the majority leader decided a lengthy confirmation process is better than no process at all.
Reid tried to get a unanimous consent agreement for Wednesday's nominees, but was rebuffed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who signaled that Republicans will keep gumming up the nominations process as payback for Democrats pushing through filibuster reform last year. Democrats revamped filibuster rules in response to GOP obstruction of many Obama nominees for political reasons.
"As everyone knows, last year our friends on the other side of the aisle invoked the so-called nuclear option," Cornyn said. "Now the majority leader would like to short-circuit the process put in place and seek to get confirmation of these judicial nominees by unanimous consent. My hope would be that the majority leader would choose to reverse the partisan rules change so that we can go back to the bipartisan cooperative process that resulted in more than 200 Obama judges being confirmed. Absent that, I object."
If Reid had been able to get consent on the four nominees, they could have been voted on immediately. They now will have to wait for an intervening day, and then up to two hours of debate is allowed for each nominee -- with Republicans likely to use up their entire hour of allotted time on each nominee to drag out the process.
There are currently 32 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes, including many likely to get broad bipartisan support in the Senate. In the meantime, there are 96 judicial vacancies around the country.
Earlier Wednesday, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) tried to get consent to hold votes on two Arkansas nominees, but was shot down by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who also cited filibuster reform.
Grassley may have played a role in Reid finally moving forward on nominees on his own. During a Tuesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Iowa Republican complained that the Senate doesn't do much, and said Democrats shouldn't complain about Republicans blocking nominees, since Reid can set up votes whenever he wants.
"Very little is considered on the Senate floor. We're rarely in session on Fridays," Grassley said. "There's no reason why the leader of the Senate can't bring up nominees anytime he decides to do it."