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12 October 2017, 07:30 | Erica Roy
Our Views: Frustrating -- Senate lollygags on judges
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he will end the long-held practice of giving senators a chance to block judicial nominees who would have jurisdiction over their states - a move that comes as McConnell is facing increasing pressure from conservative groups to make the Senate more responsive to President Trump's wishes.
Senators traded rhetorical shots on Wednesday after tensions over the issue - which have been simmering for months - appeared to spill over.
"The majority", meaning Republicans, will treat blue slips "as simply notification of how you're going to vote, not as an opportunity to blackball", McConnell told the Weekly Standard. He needs to decide whether he'll stand by his longstanding support of the blue slip process and his word of honor to Senator Leahy, or if he'll let himself be bullied by Senator McConnell.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, added that the comments in The Weekly Standard interview were a reflection of "the Leader's well-known public position on the matter". "If you mean he's not announcing a committee position, then yes, he's not announcing a committee position". According to the rules since 2003, it takes both home-state senators withholding their blue slips to stop a hearing and confirmation, which should have already cleared the path for Stras.
The blue slip tradition has been upheld by both parties for the past century, with only rare examples of judges making it to the bench without the blessing of both home state senators - the last time it happened was 1989.
McConnell also made clear that he meant to keep making floor time that he would prioritize confirming new federal judges over some other mid-level Trump nominees, given the long-term significance of getting new conservatives installed in jobs that will long outlast the Trump White House. But McConnell's remarks on Wednesday set off alarm bells among top Democrats and allied outside groups.
I can not read Foy's quoted statement, however, without thinking that the use of the blue slip to block the the Stras nomination represents a "case" of "abuse" by Minnesota's own Al Franken. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have said they won't turn in blue slips for some of Trump's judicial nominees from their states.
On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that "the Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement". Or quite possibly, Grassley's not onboard with this step, and McConnell is lobbying him through the news media and the various conservative groups who will rush to applaud it. "Trump has so far sent nominees for 50 of the current vacancies". "They are wrong and we can not overstate the frustration and growing concern with the Republican Senate leadership for its failure during this entire year to do its work".
The so-called "30 hours rule"-which provides for 30 hours of debate on a nominee-won't be overturned". That's due in part to the Senate's packed legislative schedule, as well as general chaos emanating from the White House and Democrats delaying or blocking action on nominees they oppose. They did away with the 60-vote filibuster for lower-court nominees when they held the majority in 2013, and Republicans followed suit by ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees earlier this year.
Grassley "will determine how to apply the blue slip courtesy for federal judicial nominees, as has always been the practice", said Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy.
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