WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) accused Republicans of pure political obstruction of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees Wednesday, prompting a shrug from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who objected to her attempt to expedite 15 long-stalled appointees.
Warren took to the Senate floor in the afternoon seeking unanimous consent to bring up all the noncontroversial judges who have passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but have not received votes on the Senate floor.
Pointing to a report she released Monday, the Massachusetts senator noted that Republicans have been approving nominees at a glacial pace since taking over the Senate in 2014, approving just 18 judges in this Congress. Judicial vacancies have skyrocketed from 43 to 89.
“Instead of working to make government function, to make government more efficient, Senate Republicans have made it their priority to keep key positions empty for so long as possible, to hamstring efforts to protect consumers and workers, to delay efforts to hold large corporations accountable, to slow down work to promote equality,” Warren said. “The view of Senate Republicans seems to be pretty simple — if government isn't working for them, for their rich friends or for their right-wing allies, then Senate Republicans won't let it work for anyone.”
Unsurprisingly, McConnell denied her request. He also declined to engage in Warren’s arguments about judicial emergencies and the functioning of the government. Instead, he said that Obama has been treated fairly, with more judges confirmed over his entire presidency than in George W. Bush’s, although most of Obama's came while Democrats ran the Senate.
McConnell added that it is his party’s role to decide which judges to bring to the floor, not Warren’s. “The minority is not going to dictate to the majority when and how we will do so," McConnell said, also noting that he allowed votes on two trade court judges on Monday.
But even on those confirmations, Warren alleged political motivations, saying that she had come to the Republicans on Monday to get floor time to do the same thing she tried Wednesday. McConnell balked, however, while his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, was making awkwardly timed headlines for disrespecting the judiciary.
“The Republicans offered me a deal — just go away and we'll confirm two Court of International Trade judges,” Warren said. “The Republicans released two hostages and the Senate confirmed them by voice vote without objection, not a single objection, nearly a year after they were nominated. Today, the majority leader isn't offering to release any hostages.”
Warren subsequently asked for consent to move on nine judges who have been waiting six months. When McConnell objected, she sought approval — and was denied — for four judges who have been stalled since September, and then on the one judge who has been waiting the longest.
McConnell left it to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to turn down the final requests.
The majority leader has refused to even allow hearings for Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. Republicans say they will leave the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat vacant for at least a year so voters can weigh the vacancy as part of their choice for president.
Warren summed up by accusing McConnell and the GOP of transparent and harmful partisanship.
“The Senate's job is to provide advice and consent on the president's judicial nominees,” Warren said. “There is no asterisk that says only when the majority leader has an embarrassing political problem or except when the president is named Barack Obama. It is not what the founders had in mind because it is small, it is petty and it is absurd.”