Congressional Republicans have little to say or do in the shutdown debate. Whatever deal emerges from President Trump’s negotiations with incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will be supported by GOP members in both the House and Senate. So what should Capitol Hill supporters of the president focus on in the meantime? House Republicans, in the minority, ought to concentrate on recruiting strong candidates to retake the chamber in 2020. Their Senate colleagues, though, remain in the majority and, thus, should be working on nominations — around the clock, with no days off.
When the last Congress adjourned, there were 12 federal appeals court nominations and more than 60 federal district court nominations pending. Even after nominees clear the Judiciary Committee, Senate Democrats have been insisting on using the 60 hours of floor time per nominee allotted under Senate rules before a final vote on confirmation. The Democrats don’t actually speak during these delays; many often end up voting for the nominee. They are simply slowing down the train of nominees by blocking as much of the track as they can. It worked well in the last Congress. This Senate Republican majority, up to 53 in number, should just say no.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can announce a “no recesses, no days off” policy until the backlog on judges and key executive branch posts is cleared. Not every senator has to stay at the Senate 24/7, of course, but all must take their turns keeping the clocks running. If Democrats don’t relent, clearing the current backlog will still take between five and six months working around the clock. (And center-right judges of a certain age should think about retiring sooner rather than later. Personal vanity should not be placed before the need to further infuse the judiciary with young judges who take the Constitution seriously.)
Staying in session around the clock is hard work, but it is what Republican and the conservative grass roots expect. Some senators facing potentially tough reelections may have to make it home more often than others, but anything less than a full commitment from Senate Republicans to clearing the nominee decks will be seen as business-as-usual-Inside-the-Beltway. McConnell did the most of any senator of the modern era to renew the courts, saving the Constitution as we know it by holding open the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016, and he’s made judicial confirmations his priority. He, outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and their colleagues did a great job these past two years.
But it is now time to hit fifth gear. Go around the clock, or use the precedent set by then-Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to change the amount of time available to slow-walk any nominee below the level of the Supreme Court or the president’s Cabinet to five hours — both before and after cloture. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) can be counted on to accelerate Judiciary Committee proceedings now that he has the gavel (why not two hearing days for nominees each week rather than one every two weeks?), and if the caucus won’t support the use of the Reid Rule, then the majority leader has to make life uncomfortable for every senator.
Voters won’t mind seeing senators inconvenienced. Conservatives would cheer it, in fact, and approval from the center-right of the Senate would quickly rise. No matter how much senators are in session, most Americans would love to have jobs as undemanding as theirs, and six months of ceaseless work is what voters deserve. It took a lot of effort to save the GOP’s Senate majority in 2018. Keeping it in 2020 requires the first half of 2019 be spent demonstrating why the majority is so crucial to hold.