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Updated: 5:32 p.m.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to move 17 pending federal judicial nominees today, declaring the nation’s court system “at the breaking point under a backlog so intense an emergency has been declared.”
The Nevada Democrat, who has complained of Republican filibustering over a host of Obama administration nominees, filed procedural motions on each of the 17 pending District Court nominees who earned GOP support in the Judiciary Committee.
“Republicans have prevented the Senate from doing its constitutional duty” by confirming nominees, Reid said.
Reid has long complained about GOP stalling on nominations and even brokered an agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to advance more Obama administration nominees at the beginning of last year, but his move today will shift the Senate’s attention away from jobs and the economy. Reid argued, however, that the issue has grown into a larger concern for the public and said that “Americans can no longer rely on fair and speedy trials.”
Reid also said any Republican-led stalling of the District Court nominees would suggest “an effort to embarrass the president and not take into consideration 160 million people who don’t have the ability to have their cases tried in an orderly manner.”
Republicans quickly pointed out that of the 83 federal court vacancies, Obama has yet to select nominees in 44 of those seats, and they criticized Reid’s shift away from jobs.
“I thought the Senate was going to focus on jobs, gas prices and the economy,” said John Ashbrook, a McConnell spokesman.
The Senate is considering a transportation bill, which has been on the floor for weeks and which Reid had hoped to finish this week. Reid said the chamber would also take up a small-business jobs bill the House overwhelmingly passed last week, as well as legislation reforming the Postal Service and dealing with cybersecurity.
Sen. Mike Lee blasted Reid’s move as “a political stunt designed to distract the American people from the Democrats’ legislative failures.” The Utah Republican also said Obama’s decision to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “made it impossible for Senators to conduct business as usual.”