WASHINGTON -- The judicial nominations process is as clogged up as ever, with Senate Republicans using any number of ways to delay or straight-up block President Barack Obama's nominees from advancing.
But that didn't stop Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) from making the case Tuesday that Republicans have a pretty stellar record of confirming Obama's nominees.
"For the benefit of the people of this country that have been listening to the complaints in the Senate from senators about not approving judges, let me remind everybody that, at this point, we've approved over 220 judges," Grassley said on the Senate floor. "Only two have been disapproved. That's more than 99 percent."
By this week, Grassley said, the Senate will have confirmed 50 of Obama's judicial nominees during his second term in office, which compares to 21 at this point in President George W. Bush's second term.
"So that's 50 to 21, the production of this Congress for approving judges," he said.
But Grassley's statistics gloss over the broader context of what's going on with Obama's judicial nominees. Obama's confirmations lag behind Bush (by five) and Bill Clinton (by 21) at this point in their presidencies, and roughly 30 of his judicial nominees are gathering dust on the Senate floor as Republicans refuse to consent to hold up-or-down votes. Beyond that, Republicans have been using the "blue-slip process" in the Senate Judiciary Committee to block nominees, including one who would fill the longest-standing district court vacancy in the country.
GOP obstruction is a major reason there are now more than 90 judicial vacancies around the country -- dwarfing the 52 at this point in Bush's presidency.
It didn't take long for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to wonder aloud what Grassley was talking about.
"I have deep respect for my friend ... but he's been listening to himself talk too much and starting to believe it, I guess," Reid said. "I would suggest to my friend, the senior senator from Iowa, he not believe his own words. Because it's simply not true."
The irony may have been lost on the Iowa Republican, but Grassley's defense of GOP cooperation on judges came as he was burning up time on the Senate floor to delay votes on nominees. Grassley spoke between votes on four judicial nominees -- the first batch to make it to the floor all year -- and the only reason they got votes is because Reid employed a lengthy procedural process known as "cloture" to get them to the floor.
Both parties typically give "consent" to bring a nominee to a vote, within minutes, but Republicans have refused to give that consent all year, forcing Reid to file a cloture motion to push nominees to the floor. Even then, once each nominee came up, Republicans required record votes on procedural steps for each one and used up chunks of allotted debate time on each nominee to further run out the clock. It was in the midst of this process that Grassley downplayed the idea of GOP obstruction of nominees.
"It's almost like the efforts made by our friends on the other side in closing down the government last year," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This is just a slow way to close down the federal judiciary."
Despite the delays, all four of the nominees were confirmed with near-unanimous GOP support. That was the expected outcome, given that they were reported unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans have signaled they're prepared to drag out votes on nominees any way they can -- not because of the nominees themselves, but as retribution for Democrats eliminating the filibuster rule for nominees last year. Democrats took that action in response to Republicans using the filibuster to block Obama's nominees for political reasons.
Reid appeared unfazed by the prospect of more procedural delays, however. On Tuesday, he vowed to clear the backlog of pending judicial nominees this year with or without the help of Republicans.
"We have scores of judges, district court judges, and we have a number of circuit court judges, and we're going to in the near future file cloture on all of them," Reid said. "If that's what the Republicans want us to do, then that's what we'll do. The American people will see this colossal waste of time that we've been going through."