It looks like Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have backed down on their obstruction of judicial confirmations. But it’s a little unclear at the moment.
What we know is that McConnell and Harry Reid reached a deal that will allow the judges to get a vote. However, the JOBS Act, the financial market IPO deregulation bill which McConnell sought prior to the judicial issues, will get a vote first, rather than the sequencing Reid set up previously. McConnell claims there will be no need for cloture votes on the judicial nominations, after the JOBS Act passes.
The deal will avert cloture votes Reid was threatening to force on 17 district court nominations, McConnell said. The leaders did not announce details, saying they were briefing their members first, but McConnell said Reid had agreed to move first to legislation to help small businesses to raise capital. The agreement will allow the Senate “to handle judicial nominations and move forward,” McConnell said.
The exchange sounds clear. McConnell gets his JOBS Act, and Reid gets the 17 confirmations. However, McConnell is not actually in a position to make those guarantees. The Senate works under unanimous consent rules. So any member who wants to hold up judicial confirmations and force cloture votes and 30-hour post-cloture time can do so. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) have vowed to block all nominations as payback for the recess appointments made recently by the President. And according to this story, the leaders had not yet briefed Lee, DeMint, or any members on the deal. So there’s no guarantee as to whether Lee or DeMint or someone else will abide by the agreement, or strike out on their own and force cloture votes. McConnell has a better handle on his caucus than John Boehner, but in a case like this, I could see DeMint or Lee breaking.
We’ll have to see how it transpires, but the JOBS Act was a fairly powerful lever, and Democrats are giving it up first before the judicial confirmations are made. Let’s hope it works, but there’s some danger involved.
UPDATE: The deal only ensures votes for 14 of the 17 nominees. So not quite as good as it first looked.