Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s judicial nominations, a surging economy, record-low unemployment and a new tax cut are some of the reasons why he is receiving strong reviews from the Washington press.
On Tuesday, the 76-year-old Kentucky Republican will eclipse Robert J. Dole (Kan.) as the longest-serving Republican leader in Senate history with a tenure of 11 years, five months and 10 days.
“McConnell has done as much to advance conservative causes as any Republican in the last 25 years, practically stealing the ideological balance of the Supreme Court and slashing tax rates to their lowest levels in decades,” wrote Paul Kane of the Washington Post in a Sunday column.
McConnell is on a record pace for confirmation with 21 circuit court judges confirmed in this Congress. In 2017, a first-year record for a president was set when the Senate confirmed 12 of President Trump’s circuit court nominees. There are 14 other current or announced vacancies of 179 authorized positions.
These lifetime appointments to the judiciary are “my top priority,” McConnell told NPR in an interview last week. "There are over 1,200 executive branch appointments that come to us for confirmation, and among the most important — in fact, I would argue, the most important — confirmations we have are lifetime appointments to the judiciary."
McConnell said the result will be a judicial branch that has more jurists like the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was held in high esteem by conservatives.
“What the president is sending up and what we are confirming are judges who are similar to what Justice Scalia once said a judge ought to be: He said if you're not occasionally uncomfortable with the outcome you reach, you're not a very good judge,” McConnell told NPR.
McConnell’s Democratic opposition remain angry over his decision to block consideration of President Obama’s 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. But the strategy was successful, and ultimately led to the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch instead.
“In his 33 Senate years, he has become a major figure in the history of two of the government’s three branches — the legislative and now the judicial as he oversees the reshaping of federal courts,” wrote columnist George Will in the Washington Post.
Six Kentuckians have been confirmed this Congress – three circuit judges and three district judges. Kentucky has two districts, Eastern and Western. Six are assigned to the Eastern District of Kentucky and five to the Western District of Kentucky.
Claria Horn Boom occupies a swing seat, meaning she has a seat in the Eastern and Western districts. Once Robert Wier is sworn in, there will be 10 total active judges filling the 11 spots.
All three of the judges in the 6th Circuit – Amul Thapar (age 49), John Bush (age 53) and John Nalbandian (age 49) – were confirmed this year.
Boom, Rebecca Jennings and Wier, all between the ages of 39 and 51, were the district judge appointments.
Even during a midterm election year, McConnell’s focus is on the chamber’s agenda of confirming the lifetime judicial appointments before the end of the year as he continues to reshape the future.
“Strategy, strategy and keeping the ship steady and straight, until we get to a goal,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a friend of Dole’s who has served more than 21 years in the Senate told the Washington Post. “The term of ‘herding cats’ comes to mind.”
“He’s a master tactician and strategist. He has managed to herd cats, which is not easy,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who came to the Senate with Roberts in 1997.
The “herding cats” term came from a previous majority leader, the late Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who rose to the position through his own personal popularity and his ability to deliver bipartisan results despite the difficult task of getting 100 “cats” to cooperate, Kane wrote in the Washington Post.
The Washington Times wrote in an editorial: “The senator from Kentucky is a remarkably shrewd and skilled tactician. Lyndon Baines Johnson was called the ‘Master of the Senate,’ but he usually worked with large Democratic majorities, and Mr. McConnell, if not a master, nevertheless gets a lot done with razor-thin majorities.”
McConnell announced last week that the Senate’s traditional August break would be severely cut this year. Democrats were upset at the decision, saying the Kentucky senator was playing political hardball and trying to keep them off the campaign trail where several Democratic incumbents are defending vulnerable seats. However, the move comes in reaction to the minority forcing a cloture vote that eats up valuable time.
Guy Benson wrote in an analysis on Townhall that the previous six presidents’ nominations put forward during each man’s first two years in office faced 24 forced cloture votes combined. Trump is already at 101 with more than seven months remaining in his second year. The stalling tactic can lead to up to 30 hours of floor debate prior to final vote, slowing down Trump’s legislative agenda of putting his own team and appointees in place. McConnell’s move just adds time to the clock.
“I would remind those in America who are right of center that this has been a fabulous year and a half,” McConnell told NPR. “Everything from tax relief to repealing the individual mandate to the 15 uses of the Congressional Review Act. We mentioned the courts, comprehensive tax reform. If you are a right-of-center person, there hasn't been a better period than this in at least three decades.”
Of Trump, McConnell told NPR, “we’d like to see him talking about what we’re sitting here talking about more of the time…. Many of us have urged him to do that and we hope he will.”