When it comes to achieving confirmation of conservative judges, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has good reason to be “tooting [his] own horn.”
The Kentucky Republican admitted that’s what he was doing when telling the New York Times on Tuesday that the judicial confirmations in a polarized Washington, especially those of three Supreme Court justices in less than four years, were more “consequential” than the accomplishments of any other majority leader. If he isn’t right about that, he certainly is close.
The raw numbers don’t lie, and they tell much of the story. Indeed, the more numbers one peruses, the more impressive McConnell’s record looks. Through Oct. 27 of a first term, no president has secured more judicial confirmations than the 220 confirmed for Donald Trump under McConnell’s Senate leadership. (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton tie for second at 203.) More impressive still, 53 of those appointees were for the crucial federal courts of appeal. That’s 11 and 18 more, or 20-30% more, than the next two highest, the elder and younger Bushes.
Then, there are the three Supreme Court justices, all of the highest professional qualifications, all pushed through with narrow majorities under difficult circumstances.
Those difficult circumstances are not only quantifiable but astonishing. Never in U.S. history has the minority party in the Senate gone to such extreme procedural lengths to block the confirmation of judicial nominees. Again and again, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Democrats have forced lengthy debate and used procedural hurdles against even noncontroversial nominees, gumming up the works in the Senate in piques of sheer spite.
For 214 years, all but the most divisive nominees advanced to a final floor vote without even a threat of a filibuster, with no need for “cloture” votes to overcome minority opposition. Only one cloture vote was ever required for any of President Ronald Reagan’s judicial nominees, one for the elder Bush, one for Clinton.