WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) picked up a ringing endorsement from the White House on Tuesday for trying to force Republicans to vote on President Barack Obama's stalled judicial nominees.
"The bottom line is the White House strongly supports Leader Reid's move," White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said in a conference call with reporters. "The president is demanding the Senate do its job. ... The executive branch and Congress have a responsibility to ensure the third branch, the judiciary, can function. Obama has lived up to his responsibility. It's time for the legislative branch, Congress, to live up to theirs."
Reid filed a procedural motion on Monday that forces the Senate to begin debate on 17 district court nominees whose confirmation Republicans have been filibustering for months.
Reid's move means the Senate will vote Wednesday afternoon to begin 30 hours of debate on each of the nominees. If Democrats are able to get to 60 votes, which requires some Republicans to vote with them, then the 30 hours of debate start on the first of the 17 nominees. If they don't get the 60 votes to begin debate, then Democrats will move on to the second nominee on the list and line up another vote for beginning 30 hours of debate on that nominee.
A senior Senate Democratic aide explained that if all of the votes to begin debate fail, it will take the Senate about six hours to get through them all. if any of them succeed, it could take "anywhere from 6 hours to three weeks" to move through the package, said this aide. The expediency of the process depends on how many of those procedural votes succeed and whether Republicans waive their right to have 30 hours of debate on each one.
Ruemmler criticized Republicans for using "every delay tactic available to them to slow the nominations process down to a halt," despite the president's nominees being "unquestionably qualified." She recounted the story of one Florida judicial nominee, Judge Adalberto Jordan, who had the support of Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), but whose confirmation vote was still delayed by Republicans for four months. When the vote finally came up, Jordan was confirmed 94-5.
This "shows how unnecessary and ridiculous it was to go through these extraordinary measures," Ruemmler said.
Ruemmler dismissed the idea that the White House is pushing for fast action on the nominees because time is running out to get much done before the election. She pointed to September 2008 voice votes, in which the Senate cleared 10 district court nominees, as proof that if the process is "working correctly, it should work."
Asked if Obama is prepared to install his judicial nominees by recess appointment, Ruemmler said she didn't want to "speculate." She also wouldn't say if the president has been reaching out to individual Republican senators to try to win their support for holding confirmation votes. But she said at least one Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), has signaled that he doesn't want to keep blocking Obama's nominees just to drag out the process.
"I think it shows some real statesmanship" that Coburn has criticized the practice of using courts "as political payback" against Obama, Ruemmler said. "I agree wholeheartedly with Sen. Coburn's sentiments."