Democrats have been seizing on the coronavirus pandemic to put Senate business on ice so they can freeze the Republican pipeline of judicial nominations until the election.
Some liberal commentators have even suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should hold back on nominees in an election year and let the will of the voters speak.
They were dismayed when McConnell threw cold water on their scheme Thursday, rejecting calls to cancel his plan to bring the Senate back to Washington, D.C., on Monday. The chamber had taken a five-week recess to help curb the spread of coronavirus on Capitol Hill.
House Democrats had canceled their plans to return on Monday after consulting with the Capitol physician. He advised them it was not yet safe to have the chamber back in session because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the city, but McConnell downplayed the health risks.
“Well look, we can modify our routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we can honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct our business in person,” he said on Fox News Thursday.
“If it’s essential for doctors, nurses, health care workers, truck drivers, grocery store workers and many other brave Americans to keep carefully manning their own duty stations during the pandemic, then it’s essential for senators to carefully man ours and support them. We’re going to focus on the job we need to do for the American people, and I think we can conduct our business safely,” McConnell said.
He indicated on Thursday that the chamber will be focused on confirmations when it returns on Monday, saying that the Senate is “in the personnel business.”
Republicans are preparing to advance several nominations when they return to Washington next week, either in committees or on the Senate floor.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is planning a confirmation hearing for May 6 for Justin Walker, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Graham urging him to focus instead on coronavirus-related issues like help for law enforcement, immigration and safety in prisons.
“Holding a nominations hearing at this point in time is simply unnecessary. Given the Senate’s proposed schedule for the remainder of the 116th Congress, there is ample time to hold a nominations hearing at a later date. Moreover, there is no urgency to moving lifetime appointments at this juncture,” they wrote.
“We’re going to go back to business in the Judiciary Committee,” Graham said during a virtual town hall on Wednesday night.
“We have many confirmations for example … that have been balled up by the Democrats, even before the pandemic. So we have much work to do on behalf of the American people, and we think we can do it safely,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers insist the Senate should be focusing on saving American lives and jobs, not wasting valuable time on judicial nominations.
“Instead of focusing on the fight against the coronavirus … the main item on his agenda, the only one we’ve heard about, is a crony of his, a former staffer,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) told reporters during a conference call.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) bashed McConnell Thursday in an interview with MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, claiming nine of the judges slated for nomination have been found “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.