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Mitch McConnell's One-Man Shutdown

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Remember Mitch McConnell’s partial government shutdown? It’s continuing. And getting worse.

The good news is the Senate confirmed four of President Barack Obama's nominees Thursday: two district judges, and two others for executive branch positions.

The bad news? Where to start?

Through Thursday, the Senate has acted on six nominations in May. The chamber still is in session, but there are no plans to bring up any of the uncontroversial people waiting on the executive calendar before senators leave for the Memorial Day recess.

As usual, the best comparison is to 2007, when a Republican was president and Democrats had a new Senate majority. In that year, 26 judicial or executive branch nominees were confirmed in May.

The Senate has confirmed only 29 nominees this year – just three more than the Democratic Senate did in May 2007 alone. The 2007 tally reached 72 by the end of May. If they don’t catch up now, they won’t any time soon. The Senate confirmed a whopping 52 nominees in June 2007. These days, there's no sign senators are even trying; The committees are slow-walking dozens of judges, ambassadors, members of government boards and everybody else. 

There’s simply no precedent for the Senate flat-out refusing to act on (most) nominations. It means poor government, mismanagement, justice delayed -- and therefore justice denied.

This isn't about the specific nominees. Mostly, this is just an expression of contempt for the man in the Oval Office -- and, really, contempt for the Constitution and the senators' oath of office. 

It is the Senate's duty to defeat judicial nominees it believes (within reason) are outside the mainstream, and it absolutely should exercise the leverage it is given by the Constitution to secure influence over executive branch departments and agencies through confirmations. That’s not what’s happening here. McConnell and the Republicans are undermining the constitutional order by simply ignoring their responsibilities. That's a big deal, and the press and anyone who cares about a functional government should be angry.

  1. That they're on the executive calendar to begin with doesn't prove that they're not controversial, but it does mean that they've been approved by committees with Republican chairs and Republican majorities. 

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net