Senate Democrats appear to be setting the stage for a major battle over President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations, a fight that threatens to reignite raw partisan emotions over filibuster rules and the “nuclear option.”
Facing what he said were unwarranted delays of Obama’s court picks, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., alluded last week to the possibility that he would move to prevent Republicans from blocking judicial nominations. By Monday, both sides sought to highlight recent cooperation, and the fight has yet to bubble to the surface with a public standoff on the Senate floor. But that, too, may be coming.
New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the chamber, hinted last month at an emerging strategy focused on daring Republicans to filibuster more judges this year. The conservative news website CNS News picked up on Schumer’s comments, which were delivered at a dinner shortly after Republicans successfully prevented Democrats from getting a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority on Caitlin J. Halligan’s nomination to a seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Our strategy will be to nominate four more people, for each of those vacancies, and if they filibuster all of them, it will give those of us who want to change the rules and not allow 60 votes to dominate the Senate — but require a talking filibuster — to prevail. So, we will fill up the D.C. Circuit, one way or the other,” Schumer reportedly said at the time.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handles a host of important cases about government operations, and Democrats have blasted delays in getting the court up to full strength during Obama’s administration. They contend that GOP senators are intentionally preventing seats from being filled to maintain a majority of conservative judges.
The effort to fill the appeals court “isn’t on the radar screen, but we need the progressive community to be behind it,” Schumer said in a clip posted on YouTube. “There are now four vacancies on that court, and it’s dominated by the hard right.”
Schumer noted that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned environmental regulations on coal plants and “rendered the [Securities and Exchange Commission] impotent by saying the SEC can’t pass rulings unless they do what’s called a cost-benefit analysis, which ties any rulings to go after our financial institutions in knots.”
He also blasted a decision by the court to declare unconstitutional Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in a sweeping decision that also casts doubt on the appointment of Richard Cordray to be the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.