WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Monday that he is moving forward with a package of stalled judicial nominees and effectively dared Republicans to try to stop him.
Reid filed a procedural motion that allows the Senate to begin debate on the confirmation of 17 of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, whose nominations Republicans have held up for months. Some district judge nominees have been stuck in limbo since November, Reid said, and 11 are from "judicial emergency states" where there aren't enough judges to hear the cases piling up.
"These long waits have nothing to do with the qualifications of these nominees. They're often confirmed unanimously. What does that say? It says that the wait is dilatory. It's delay for delay's sake," he said on the Senate floor. "As we know here, the Republican leader [Mitch McConnell] has said his number one goal in this Congress is to defeat President Obama. And this is a part of it."
Reid's move begins 30 hours of debate on the first of the 17 judicial nominees. Once the clock runs out, the Senate needs 60 votes to end debate, which requires some Republicans to vote with Democrats. If they don't, the period of debate doesn't end and the judges remain in limbo. Even if Democrats get to 60 votes on the first nominee, Republicans could force another 30 hours of debate on each of the remaining 16 nominees as a way to drag out the process.
"I hope Republicans won't continue to filibuster," Reid said. In what appeared to be a veiled threat that Obama will make recess appointments, he warned that if the GOP delays continue, "we will have no alternative but to take action."
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) later railed against Republicans for refusing to even allow votes on Obama's nominees, saying they should just vote against a nominee if they don't support him or her.
Instead, dozens of nominees are "left in this political limbo created by the Republicans ... in the hopes that, in November, they get a Republican president who will fill these vacancies with 'true believers,'" Durbin said on the Senate floor. "That isn't fair."
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to comment directly on Reid's move but said Obama and Senate Democrats are largely to blame for the 83 vacancies in the judiciary. Obama has only made 39 out of 83 possible nominations, Stewart said, and of those 39, about half are still pending in the Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Reid's move was "nothing more than a political stunt" aimed at distracting people from Democrats' failed policies on the economy.
"His sudden interest in judicial nominations is a desperate attempt to draw attention away from his party's failure to address our nation's economic emergencies," Lee said in a statement. "The notion that Senator Reid has filed for cloture because Republicans are 'blocking' nominees is ... false. In fact, of the 17 nominees in question, three were only cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, and the full Senate has not even at an opportunity to consider them. Given such facts, Senator Reid's claims of 'obstruction' simply cannot be taken seriously."
But Lee himself has previously vowed to block all of Obama's nominees in protest of four recess appointments Obama made in January, at a time when Republicans say the Senate was not technically in recess. Lee has said those appointments were unconstitutional and should be rescinded before any other nominees are approved. The White House maintains the recess appointments were legitimate.
Practically speaking, Senate Democrats are running short on time to get Obama's nominees confirmed. Election-year politics typically mean nothing gets done in Congress in the months ahead of the election. Reid warned Republicans last month that he will urge Obama to recess appoint all of his executive branch nominees if Republicans don't help to advance at least some of them by April.