President Donald Trump and Republican senators took a victory lap Wednesday to celebrate their push to put nearly 150 of their picks on federal benches from coast to coast.
“It starts with Mitch — because you never gave me a call and said, ‘Maybe we can do it an easier way,’” Trump said during a lively ceremony in the White House’s ornate East Room.
He was referring to using most of the Senate’s floor time to move judicial nominees, and not backing down when some of those individuals received pushback from Democrats — and even some Republicans.
The Senate has confirmed 72 Trump judicial nominees this year, the most of his term. Overall, he and McConnell have put 112 justices on the federal district courts, 43 to circuit courts and two to the Supreme Court. The Senate, shortly after the event wrapped, was slated to vote on two more.
The high number of vacancies Trump has been able to fill is partly because McConnell used his majority leader position to bottle up dozens of nominees tapped by President Barack Obama during his last two years in office.
Trump and several GOP senators said more nominations are coming, via retirements mostly. But also because of what the president called “the D-word,” meaning death, which he says he doesn’t like to discuss.
“Mr. President, this is one of the many ways you are helping to make America great again,” McConnell said during his time behind the presidential lectern, using part of Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.
The majority leader called federal judge posts the “most important thing” that a new GOP president could do, something he said he told Trump early on.
“You’ve been helped by a decision I made and these guys backed me up on: to not fill that [Antonin] Scalia vacancy on the way out the door,” McConnell said to cheers, referring to him blocking Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the conservative justice’s seat.
“And, boy, you didn’t blow it,” McConnell said to Trump before referring to Scalia’s replacement: “Neil Gorsuch is an all-star.”
Trump criticized the “angry mob” and “activist” judges, whom he called part of a liberal attack against his presidency.
The president, who appeared in a jovial mood, joked with his fellow Republicans about the nomination process and even told Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that “nobody’s beat you” in his reelection race. Trump quipped that former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who recently dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, can’t win in the Lone Star State because he opposes religion, guns and oil.
The audience howled laughter.
But lawmakers were soon back to congratulating themselves.
“Our Democratic friends are tough and they fight hard for their causes,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who credited Trump with not “pulling the plug” on now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh amid sexual assault allegations that surfaced during his confirmation process.
Graham said that one of the reasons he expects Trump will be reelected is because “you fight for conservative judges.”