June 16, 2008

Tit for Tat

That is the name of the game in today's U.S. Senate. Two Sixth-Circuit Court nominees - White and Kethledge - and one District Court nominee - Murphy - were advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday afternoon. But not until a few jabs were thrown.

TIT: Following opening remarks by Chairman Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Specter (R-PA), the dialogue spiraled into an unbridled display of finger-pointing. Senator Durbin (D-IL) launched a storm of bickering about who is to blame for the recent stalling and gridlock. He began by denouncing the heightened use of filibusters. “75 filibusters this session alone (and with months to go) by the Minority has led to a breakdown.” After throwing the first punch, he regressed into a "why cant we all just get along and do our jobs" appeal that encouraged moving ahead through the use of amendments and holding more productive debates. Senators Whitehouse (D-RI) and Feinstein (D-CA) added that the recent objections and use of procedural mechanisms such as the two hour rule by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and company are shamefully hurting the integrity and character of Senate hearings. "My hearing was stopped dead in its tracks. This just isn't right ... i want to appeal to the other side to cease and desist," said a very peeved Senator Feinstein. At one point, Chairman Leahy even threatened to hold "these hearings on Saturdays" if the obstructions continue.

TAT: Senator Kyl (R-AZ) responded, "there have been many shots fired and it is easy to pick one and blame the other side for starting all of this ... and it is easy for the Majority to talk about the objections and stalling of bills, but let's begin by talking about [stalled judicial] confirmations." Senator Sessions (R-AL) added that nominees Keisler and Conrad are unanimously well qualified and "have been waiting much longer [than White] ... we are not even close to the average 15 to 17 confirmations." Senator Hatch (R-UT) defended the use of the two hour rule and other objections as tools the Minority rightfully has at its disposal to employ them if it has to.

And so they sparred back and forth for over an hour, until Senator Biden (D-DE) offered to, in his own words, "Inject a bit of reality into all of this." This reality is that we are in a presidential election year and there is a good reason for a party who sees they could win the election to hold out on confirmations, he explained. "These are lifetime appointments. The president’s preference is young judges in their 40s with a streak of conservative records … The idea that the president is going to get every single one of his nominations … It's just not going to happen, it never happens … There are 98 other senators here [besides the Chairman and ranking member] ... the President should realize that and be more useful with who he nominates." So basically, a president should not hope for his judicial nominees to be confirmed in his final year in office. It therefore should not be a surprise to Senator Biden if Republican Senators were to by chance remember such justifications in a potential Obama administration four years from now. Is Senator Biden short sighted or is he right that this is just the way it is?

Within the final half hour of the meeting, they settled down to debate and vote on the three candidates, who all passed and now stand for confirmation on the Senate floor. The delay tactics are set to continue as there is still a long way to go for approving a reasonable number of judicial nominees. Surely, the Majority knows exactly why the Minority is employing frustrating procedural tactics by now and one has to wonder what all that bickering and finger pointing is worth. It begs the question: Why can't they skip the foreplay and get down to business, debate the nominees' records, vote, and go home early?

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