After spending most of Tuesday fighting over how quickly to vote on a bill giving billions of dollars of aid to Ukraine, the U.S. Senate has to pause today to confirm four judges and an ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It never used to work like this, but American assistance to a struggling young democracy will have to wait until at least Thursday because Democrats and Republicans are still feuding over how quickly to confirm President Obama's nominees for government jobs and the federal courts.
Over the course of at least six hours Wednesday, senators will hold a series of procedural and confirmation votes for four nominees to serve on federal district courts -- Christopher Reid Cooper, to serve on the bench in D.C.; M. Douglas Harpool to serve as a judge for the Western District of Missouri; and Gerald Austin McHugh and Edward Smith to serve as judges for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Later, senators are expected to hold votes to confirm Joseph William Westphal as the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
In the old days -- and we're talking before November when Democrats voted to eliminate filibusters for most presidential nominees -- these judge and ambassador picks would have been confirmed in less than an hour or by unanimous consent. But Republicans are refusing the swift consideration of any Obama picks until Democrats agree to go back to the old rules.
The timing on the Westphal vote is most interesting, because Obama is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on Friday. Clearly the Senate is trying to make Obama look good before he gets there, because as The Post's Anne Gearan and I wrote a few weeks ago, the State Department isn't happy about dozens of ambassador vacancies, especially in countries that Obama and Vice President Biden are scheduled to visit this Spring.