Senate GOP Continues Efforts to Block Democrats, Force Judge Votes

Republicans aren't letting up on their assault on Senate operations as a means of supporting President Bush's judicial nominees.

In the name of confirming a handful of Bush's remaining picks for the federal appeals courts, in recent days the Senate GOP has jammed up the Democratic-run floor by first having clerks spend nearly eight hours reading out loud a 500-page global warming bill and then shutting down the chamber for about an hour with another delay tactic.

Following up on a promise to keep gumming up the process until he gets his votes, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did it again Wednesday. He wielded a rule that shuts down Senate committees after two hours if any senator raises an objection. To get around the rule, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to call a recess — in essence, shut down the Senate floor — to let the committees continue meeting. On Tuesday, Reid called a recess to let a Judiciary Committee meeting run its course.

So far, the Senate has only confirmed eight federal circuit court nominees over the last two years. With a Democratic-led Congress and a Republican White House, the final months of the Bush administration are expected to be a difficult time to gain confirmations for these particular judges, who receive lifetime appointments.

The average number of confirmations for the final two years of the last three presidencies is 17. Clinton had the lowest number in his last two years: just 15 appeals court nominations.

McConnell aides say he will make good on his threat to slow things down unless Reid keeps his word: to confirm 15 federal circuit judges before the end of President Bush's term.

Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on two such nominees, Helene White and Raymond Kethledge. The nominees aren't high on the Republicans' agenda, but it's unclear what will happen in the committee at this point.

Republicans already have put off a vote once on White and Kethledge, so Thursday should see a vote on them. Republicans point to nominees like Peter Keissler — who has been waiting for years for confirmation — as their priorities, but Democrats are pushing White because she first was nominated by President Clinton during a Republican-led Senate but never received a vote.