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McConnell Puts Squeeze on New Obama Federal Judges

McConnell talked to Hugh Hewitt about Republicans limiting the confirmations of Obama's judicial nominees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama shouldn't be too optimistic about getting a lot of federal appeals court judges confirmed by the Senate.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked for an update on the judicial confirmation process in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, and the Kentucky Republican made clear that so far the GOP-led Senate has focused its confirmation efforts on a particular variety of federal judge.  

"So far, the only judges we've confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators," McConnell said.  

Asked by Hewitt if he expected that pattern to continue for the rest of the session, McConnell replied, "I think that's highly likely, yeah."  

Hewitt has suggested it'd be fair for Republicans to retaliate and block Obama's judges en masse after Democrats changed the Senate rules to make confirmations easier.  

The Senate has confirmed four district judges thus far in 2015, according to the official records . Those confirmations filled seats in judicial districts in Texas and Utah, both states with Republican senators who serve on the Judiciary Committee. Several other nominees to be federal district judges have been reported out by the Judiciary Committee for positions in states with at least one Democratic senator.  

But one thing appears certain: the Republican Senate won't come close to the record matched by Democrats in the 113th Congress.  The decision by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to deploy the nuclear option and end the 60-vote requirement for all nominations except for Supreme Court picks resulted in 132 federal judges confirmed to the bench — 44 percent of Obama's judges overall and the best showing in decades.  

Last month, Reid ripped the slow pace of considering judges and accused Republicans of slowing the process for partisan advantage.  

"It appears that Republicans are heeding calls from the far right to retaliate against the president over immigration by blocking circuit judges," Reid said. "Republicans couldn’t defund the Department of Homeland Security. They couldn’t block Loretta Lynch’s confirmation. So now they want to block the President’s appeals court judges," he said.  

In April, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, defended the slowing of confirmations of federal judges, noting that Democrats pushed through 11 District Court nominees in the lame duck session.  

"The Senate Judiciary Committee is treating the President’s nominees extremely fairly," he said. "He has had dozens more nominees confirmed than President Bush did at this point in his presidency."  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. Related: How the Nuclear Option Turbocharged Confirmations of Federal Judges See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.