Senate leaders reached a deal Wednesday that will allow the confirmation of 14 of President Obama’s picks to the federal bench. The agreement averts a drawn-out fight over judicial nominations that threatened to slow work in the Senate for several weeks.
After sparring on the issue for the past three days, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced plans to confirm 12 federal district court nominees and two circuit court nominees by early May. Democratic aides said that seven of the nominees should be confirmed by the Easter recess in April, four more by a recess scheduled in early May and the final three immediately after that break. In exchange, the Senate will begin debate on a jobs bill passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Reid moved Monday to hold an up-or-down vote on the 14 nominees, noting that most of them had received unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said that all of them deserved swift confirmation.
But McConnell wanted the jobs bill to move first, suggesting that Reid was attempting to create “a manufactured crisis” over judicial nominations.
The jobs bill passed the House last week with Obama’s support. The White House said Wednesday that it still supports the bill, but also backs a plan by Reid to attach reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the Senate bill before sending it back to the House. There is some GOP objection to the provision.
Republicans hope that the jobs bill will allow them to focus on the economy after a politically damaging fight over reproductive rights and religious freedom. Some Republicans saw the fight over the judicial nominees as a way for Democrats to continue that debate.
Obama’s judicial nominees wait an average of 93 days to be confirmed, according to Senate Democrats. Republican nominees at the same point in George W. Bush’s presidency averaged a 22-day wait.
The Senate confirmed 62 Obama judicial nominees last year and seven this year. There are 83 judicial vacancies, according to Senate Republicans, who urged Obama this week to name his nominees to fill the vacant positions.