Obama’s judicial nominees racing to the bench after Reid went nuclear

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s triggering last year of the “nuclear option” — which eliminated filibusters on most nominees — has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of Obama-picked judges on the federal bench.

The Senate confirmed only 32 of President Obama’s nominees for U.S. District Court seats in 2013, according to Senate data, but has confirmed 46 in the first half of this year and is likely to easily double the 2013 total. That’s even allowing for the month-long August vacation and holiday recesses in November and December.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Obama has put 270 judges on the federal bench (not counting the Supreme Court), according to a count by the Alliance for Justice. He’s appointed 49 to appellate courts so far (compared with 45 for George W. Bush at this point and 43 for Bill Clinton) and 221 to district courts (compared with 224 for Clinton and 203 for Bush).

It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to match Clinton’s 372 lower-court judges or even Bush’s total of 327. That would depend on who runs the Senate in 2015. If the Republicans retake the Senate, judicial confirmations are likely to drop to something approaching, say, zero.

A quip most undiplomatic

Mega-donors know one potential perk that comes out of bundling thousands of dollars for a presidential candidate is that donors ultimately could be offered a plum overseas job hosting dinner parties (and spreading diplomacy).

But they don’t always joke about it so openly.

Enter Sam Kaplan, a wealthy Minnesota lawyer who was a top bundler for Barack Obama in 2008 and was rewarded in kind with a temporary new life in Morocco. On Thursday night, having left the ambassador job a year ago, Kaplan welcomed Obama back to his home for a private fundraiser.

It had been seven years since he’d hosted a first fundraiser for Obama in his Minneapolis house. That early support, he said, introducing the president to the crowd, “allowed you to be president. It allowed you to name ambassadors to Morocco.”

Obama acknowledged that Kaplan and others in the state “actually really did have a lot to do with my deciding to run,” because of their early faith in him. He did not, however, take the bait on the political-appointee joke.

It’s kind of a sensitive subject right now, with both the White House and congressional Republicans blaming the other for the length of time it takes to get ambassadors confirmed.

Meanwhile, a crop of 32 House members sent a bipartisan letter to Obama asking that he withdraw his pick for ambassador to Norway, Chartwell Hotels founder George Tsunis. They wrote he threatens “an important international bond if confirmed.”

As Loop fans know, Tsunis had an embarrassing performance during his Senate confirmation hearing, showing he knew little about the country’s politics. Even some Senate Democrats have told Obama to make a different choice.

No reply from the White House on this.

Just a reminder: House members can voice their opinion, but they have no say in the confirmation process.

Hard-driving Republicans

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Forget answering a bunch of random trivia questions — all you have to do is uncover the lost IRS e-mails to and from former official Lois Lerner.

Two Republican congressmen from Texas are so angry about the missing IRS e-mails that they think the U.S. government should offer a $1 million reward to anyone who finds them.

Reps. Bill Flores and Louie Gohmert introduced legislation Wednesday to offer such a prize. A lesser sum, $500,000, would go to anyone who figures out if specific agency officials were involved in purposely destroying the e-mails.

Now, these are very conservative lawmakers, so they’re not about to just give away federal dollars. So where would the money come from, you ask? The Internal Revenue Service budget. Oh, and until the e-mails are found, IRS employee salaries would be cut by 20 percent.

The the bill is obviously just for political theater, but the Republicans’ anger is real.

They say it’s offally good

Could our nation’s 43-year ban on sheep’s lung finally be lifted?

Britain’s environment secretary, Owen Paterson, was in Washington on Monday to try to convince Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the United States’ culinary scene is lacking without proper haggis — the famous Scottish dish — on the menu.

The lung is a central component of the dish, so without it, it’s not true haggis. But the United States determined in 1971 that lung is inedible and so would not allow it in the country. All Scottish lamb has been banned here since the mad cow disease scare in 1989, though that is now being renegotiated as part of the ongoing U.S.-European Union trade talks.

Neither the Agriculture Department nor the British Embassy responded with an update on how the meeting went. Ahead of the talks, Scottish Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael told the Guardian: “As for haggis, all I can say is, the Americans don’t know what they’re missing. Let’s try to put that right, too.” (Others may disagree.)

Haggis, even Americanized, isn’t easy to find in Washington. Two restaurants that had it closed recently. The Scottish Merchant in Alexandria, which sells Scottish merchandise, carries U.S.-made haggis in a can. A clerk who answered the phone there said that the store sells about 180 cans a year and that no one, to his recollection, has complained that it’s not the real deal.

So, what, exactly, is real haggis? According to a recipe on the BBC Web site, it’s primarily heart and lungs of a lamb minced with other seasonings and served in a hollowed-out sheep’s stomach.

Yum?

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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