West Wing Briefing

Sniping with McConnell over START

A stern President Barack Obama says it is a 'national security imperative' for the Senate to ratify a pending nuclear arms treaty with Russia before ending its work this year.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 10:20 AM

Forget the cross-party collaboration that was on display at the White House last Friday when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined other legislators to watch President Obama sign the bipartisan tax agreement into law.

On Sunday and Monday, McConnell - the Senate minority leader and perhaps the most powerful opponent of Obama's agenda in Washington the past two years - was emphasizing his opposition to the new nuclear treaty with Russia that the president badly wants to pass this week.

"Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician's desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year," McConnell said Monday.

No, he didn't name names. But Obama is expected to hold a news conference either Wednesday or Thursday to tout the achievements of the past month. The passage of START would give him another victory in what has been a surprisingly busy lame-duck session of Congress.

McConnell also made a point Sunday of repeating his desire to repeal the health-care bill Obama signed into law earlier this year. The president's aides, in response, are openly questioning how the Kentucky senator could say that he opposes the START treaty but at the same time be insisting that senators need more time to consider the treaty.

McConnell sharply opposed much of the Obama agenda in Congress over the past two years, using the rules of the Senate and the 41 Republicans to block legislation and nominations he did not support. His joining forces with Obama on a tax deal to keep in place all current rates until 2012 drew criticism from conservative activists such as Rush Limbaugh.

McConnell has defended that deal, saying he believes it largely represented conservative policies. But he has hinted if he does not like what Obama is doing next year, he will be eager to oppose the president.

"If [Democrats] think it's bad now, wait till next year," he warned in an interview Monday with Politico.

Little headway on judicial appointments

Liberal activists have long worried that Obama has not pushed aggressively enough to get his judicial nominees confirmed. Other Democrats say that the low rate of confirmation is because of the stalling tactics of McConnell and Senate Republicans.

Either way, as the Los Angeles Times' David Savage writes Tuesday, "Obama will finish his first two years in office with far fewer judges confirmed than any recent chief executive."

"As of Monday, the Senate had confirmed 53 of Obama's 103 judicial nominees to the federal district or appeals courts in the last two years. Another seven approvals would bring the total to 60.

"By contrast, President Clinton won approval for 126 lower court judges in his first two years, when his party controlled the Senate. One hundred judicial nominees were confirmed during George W. Bush's first two years, even though Democrats narrowly controlled the Senate for most of that time."

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