U.S. Senate leaders in both parties have agreed to hold votes on 14 federal judicial nominees, averting a showdown over nominations that may have tied up floor time in the chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said the 14 nominees will receive confirmation votes by May 7.
“It’s crucial the bipartisan cooperation continue and the pace of confirmations move forward,” Reid said today as he announced the plan on the Senate floor.
Reid had planned to force votes on 17 nominees for federal trial court judgeships starting today after talks on a bipartisan agreement to speed votes unraveled. Reid canceled the plan this afternoon as a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, started to come together.
Twenty-two judicial nominees are pending before the Senate, and Reid wanted to require votes on all 17 district court candidates on that list. Nine of the lower-court nominees were approved last year by voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Confirmations have become a sore point between the parties. Obama angered Republicans with his Jan. 4 decision to appoint Richard Cordray as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members to the National Labor Relations Board while Congress was on a holiday break.
Obama said he bypassed Republican obstructionism by making recess appointments allowed under the Constitution. Republicans said Congress wasn’t in recess because both chambers were holding brief sessions every few days.
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Two of the nominees to receive votes under the Senate leaders’ plan are candidates for federal appeals courts and 12 would serve on trial courts.
The appellate court nominees are Stephanie Dawn Thacker, nominated by President Barack Obama for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Jacqueline H. Nguyen, Obama’s choice for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Since the president made his recess appointments, Republican leaders have been wary of retaliating by blocking confirmations. Obama is seeking re-election by running against what he calls Republican gridlock in Congress.
Earlier today, before Reid and McConnell announced the agreement, McConnell said on the Senate floor that Obama was trying “to write a narrative of obstruction for his campaign.”
McConnell accused Reid of planning a “heavy-handed power play” and said Obama is doing “quite well” in advancing his judicial choices through the Senate. He’s had 129 lower-court judges confirmed in the first three years as president, while former President George W. Bush had 120 confirmed for the bench in his first four, the minority leader said.
“To the extent there’s anyone to blame, the Obama administration and Senate Democrats should look in the mirror,” McConnell said on the floor today. “Of the 83 current vacancies, over half of them don’t even have nominees.”
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democratic leader and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said earlier today that Republican delays in confirmations were slowing the work of the federal court system and were unacceptable as many of the nominees had unanimous support in the committee.
“I don’t understand how we can do this to the federal judiciary and to the men and women who are involved in this,” Durbin said.