Barely a day after Republicans celebrated the passage of tax reforms, their first major legislative victory under President Trump, the Senate's majority leader made clear that he believes the GOP-controlled Congress's crowning achievement will instead be the transformation of the federal bench through the appointment of conservative judges.
"We're in the personnel business," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by Axios, pointing the "unique opportunity" Republicans have "to move America right of center" and have "a huge impact on the court system in this country for a generation."
McConnell touted what he sees as the achievements congressional Republicans and President Trump have achieved thus far in transforming the bench, starting with "the most circuit judges that have ever been confirmed in the first year of a president since the circuit court system was set up." Most of those judges, McConnell added, "are relatively young" — meaning that their influence in the lifetime appointments will be felt for decades to come.
McConnell also eyed the possibility of another Supreme Court vacancy as he pointed, with pride, to the April confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch as the newest Supreme Court justice.
Passing the most sweeping tax reform bill in decades, McConnell added, to him ranked only "a close second" to the Gorsuch vote.
McConnell's predictions about the GOP's judicial legacy confirm the fears of several Democrats and liberal groups, who have charged for months that the Republican Party is using the Trump presidency to stack the courts with conservative ideologues who are unqualified for the appointments, while dismantling traditional hurdles to get Trump's nominees confirmed.
Republicans have tried to push back against those charges, accusing Democrats of resisting otherwise capable nominees on political grounds alone. McConnell too, seemed to realize the need to make a distinction on Thursday: After stating that the goal of the judicial appointments was "to move America right of center" with conservative judges, he added that by "conservative" he was "not talking about political conservatives, so much as what is the role of a judge."
Some of Trump's nominees have run into hurdles. Just last week, three of the picks to fill empty seats in the federal district court either resigned or had their nominations pulled after either questions of experience or allegations of endorsed discrimination arose. One nominee was even dressed-down at his confirmation hearing for having a weak grasp of trial law.
But Republicans have shown no indication that they are interested in parting ways with Trump over his judicial picks, refraining from even criticizing the Trump administration's vetting procedures after last week's rescinded nominations.