Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. smiles while answering a reporter’s question at a news conference following a closed-door policy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The Senate will take no action on anyone President Barack Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, Senator McConnell said as nearly all Republicans rallied behind his calls to leave the seat vacant for the next president to fill. His announcement came after Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee ruled out any hearing for an Obama pick. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

Right before the Senate adjourned for the final leg of the 2018 campaign, Mitch McConnell cut a deal with Chuck Schumer. In return for the Democrats allowing a vote on a slate of fifteen federal judges (three appeals and twelve district), McConnell would let them go home to campaign. McConnell had made it clear that if there was no vote, the Senate would stay in session and a lot of Democrat senators wanted to get home to try to keep their jobs. This brought the total number of federal judges confirmed during Trump’s first two years in office to an eye-popping 84 (29 appeals and 53 district) and two Supreme Court justices.

But it turns out that McConnell has bigger plans.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will move quickly after the Nov. 6 election to confirm more of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees even if that means holding the chamber in session longer than scheduled.

“We’re going to clear the calendar of judges,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The Kentucky Republican warned that if Democrats “choose to make it difficult, that could keep us here for quite a while after the election.”

The Senate has already confirmed 84 of Trump judicial nominees for life-tenured seats on U.S. courts, including 53 district court judges, 29 circuit court judges and two Supreme Court justices. It’s an unusually fast pace for a president’s first two years — by contrast, President Barack Obama got 62 judges confirmed over the same period of his presidency.

“It’s the single most important thing we’ve done,” McConnell said of the GOP’s reshaping the courts. “I hope we’ll have another couple of years to do more of this.”

The key phrase in this is “clear the calendar.” The current Senate calendar shows there are a total of 35 judges awaiting confirmation. If McConnell is successful, this will bring Trump’s total number of appointments to 129, more than double Obama’s total in his first two years.

The Democrats are crying foul.

Senate Democrats struck a deal last week with Republicans that saw the quick confirmation of 15 more conservative judges in exchange for a rapid flight to the campaign trail. Liberal activists were infuriated, but after the brutally divisive fight to confirm Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, the agreement held out a promise of peace.

“I would like to have the future mending things,” declared the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.

On Wednesday, at Mr. Grassley’s instruction, the armistice collapsed.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee convened yet another hearing to consider still more conservative federal court nominees — while the Senate was technically in recess. Incensed Democrats boycotted the proceedings, but their empty chairs did not prevent candidates for the bench, such as Allison Rushing, 36, a social conservative nominated by President Trump to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, from taking a crucial step toward confirmation.

“If there was ever any hope that after the Kavanaugh experience we could return to bipartisanship on the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was shaken this morning,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, in a telephone interview.

Mr. Grassley has said the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, agreed to Wednesday’s hearing and another to follow it.

But a spokeswoman for Ms. Feinstein — who is seeking re-election and was scheduled to appear on Wednesday night at a debate in California — said she agreed only because she thought the Senate would be in session.

Brian Fallon, who used to be Chuck Schumer’s spokescreature, isn’t buying a lot of the excuses:

For their part, Democrats are facing some serious blowback from progressives, who were already up in arms over last week’s deal. Brian E. Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice, a liberal advocacy group, said Democrats should have demanded that Wednesday’s hearing, and another one scheduled for next week, be delayed as part of the recess deal.

“To me, it’s a sign that they didn’t just get stuffed in a locker here; they had their lunch money taken,” Mr. Fallon said.

Hmmmm….where I went to school, you took the lunch money first and then stuffed them in the locker…or pulled down their shorts during gym or convinced them that the jock strap was a nose protector…but whatever. Different cultural traditions, I suppose.

This press on the federal judiciary is encouraging. It shows that both Grassley and McConnell have been screwed once too often by Chuck Schumer to let faux institutional comity drive the train. It also seems like McConnell is developing a taste for winning and for being popular instead of being a punch line for jokes.

If this holds up, and a few seats are added to the GOP caucus to marginalize Lisa Murkowski, then next session could be very, very interesting.

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