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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of Democrats calling on Senate Republicans to pause their efforts to confirm federal judges when the Senate returns on May 4 amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying the GOP seems less interested in passing further measures to combat the virus than they are in putting more of President Trump's nominees on the federal bench.
"The GDP just had its biggest drop since the Great Recession, the United States has surpassed one million confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, and we still don’t have adequate testing," Schumer said in a statement. "Meanwhile, a top administration official is calling their dismal response to these public health and economic crises 'a great success story' and Senator McConnell is seemingly only interested in confirming more unqualified, right-wing judges and protecting CEOs instead of workers."
McConnell recently said in an interview on the "Hugh Hewett Show" that as soon as the Senate reconvenes on Monday, he plans to get busy confirming more judges.
"Well, the current plan is to go back in session on May the 4th. I haven’t seen anything that would discourage me from doing that," McConnell said. "And as soon as we get back in session, we’ll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges."
"My motto for the year is 'leave no vacancy behind,'" McConnell said, reprising a phrase he said was his motto last year, too. "That hasn’t changed. The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal."
Schumer in his Wednesday statement, however, condemned McConnell for focusing on what Schumer says are partisan priorities.
"The American people are demanding answers and solutions—Senator McConnell ought to focus the Senate’s work on the crises caused by COVID-19, not right-wing judges or fulfilling his 'pre-existing partisan wish-list' of protecting big business from any harm done to the American people," Schumer said.
The minority leader's comments come after the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter, first reported by HuffPost, to committee chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., requesting that he hold off on any hearings for judicial nominees during the pandemic.
"Now is not the time to process routine judicial nominations," the letter read. "We therefore urge you to delay the May 6 nominations hearing and instead focus the Committee's efforts on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and protecting the lives and livelihoods of all Americans."
The signatories of the letter included Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member on the committee, as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., among others.
The Hill reported that the May 6 hearing the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats referenced in their letter would be for Judge Justin Walker, Trump's latest nominee to the D.C.Circut Court of Appeals, the second-most influential bench in the U.S. behind the Supreme Court. Trump announced the nomination of Walker, who is a McConnell ally and staunchly defended Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious confirmation battle, earlier this month.
Walker previously clerked for Kavanaugh. The justice sat on the D.C. Circuit before being elevated to the Supreme Court.
Democrats recoiled at the Walker nomination, and Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of the liberal Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, penned a letter to senators asking them to oppose Walker's nomination, which she claimed could put Americans' health care in jeopardy.
"President Trump’s recent announcement that he will nominate Mr. Walker, 37, to the powerful D.C. Circuit is the latest action by the Trump administration designed to deprive health care and critical civil rights protections for millions of Americans," she said. "Mr. Walker’s zealous opposition to health care access is particularly galling amidst the worst public health emergency this nation has faced in over a century."
Gupta continued: "At this perilous time in our nation’s history, the Senate should maintain a laser focus on efforts to save lives and mitigate the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 on the American people. The Senate should not process judicial nominations – particularly those like Mr. Walker who seek to dismantle health care protections for vulnerable people – until the shock of the pandemic has been diminished."
But Mike Davis, the president of the Article III Project, a conservative group dedicated to boosting Trump's judicial nominees, criticized Democrats, including Schumer, for "mindless obstruction" of Trump-nominated judges.
"Senator Chuck Schumer has mindlessly opposed the President’s judicial nominees from Day One, so it should come as no surprise that Schumer’s not letting the coronavirus crisis go to waste," Davis said. "The coronavirus crisis makes clear that judicial confirmations are one of the most essential functions of the Senate, as we need judges — like Judge Justin Walker — who understand their critical role is to protect our constitutional rights from politicians who are more interested in power grabs than public safety."
"The Senate can walk and chew gum at the same time," Davis continued, saying that the Senate could process Walker's nomination and others while also addressing the coronavirus pandemic.