Despite public calls for bipartisanship after their electoral gains, Congressional Republicans continue to use every means possible to block the Obama administration from governing. Beyond their legislative roadblocks, Republicans are obstructing routine approval of qualified and noncontroversial nominees and judges. A scan of recent history shows that confirming presidential nominees in a lame duck session has been as much a fall tradition as the pardoning of a turkey, until now.
President Obama has put forward quality candidates for consideration. There are dozens of critical vacancies in the executive branch, including the surgeon general, an assistant secretary for homeland defense, and a bevy of ambassadorships critical to our national security. Many of these nominees are long-overdue for a vote and their absence is impeding the government’s ability to function.
There are also currently dozens of judicial vacancies on the US Court of Appeals and US District Courts. The price we pay for these vacancies is steep. According to a recent Brennan Center for Justice study, judicial vacancies “slowed the court’s ability to resolve motions and try cases, which drove up litigation costs, caused evidence to go stale, made it harder to settle civil cases, and in some instances, pressured clients to plead guilty.”
Republican presidents and senators have supported confirmations during lame-duck sessions in the past. President George W. Bush said in October of 2008:
Next month, the Senate will hold a “lame duck” session to finish their legislative business for the year. One item that should be at the top of their agenda is a long list of qualified judicial nominees still waiting for Senate action. If Democrats truly seek a more productive and cooperative relationship in Washington, then they have a perfect opportunity to prove it – by giving these nominees the up- or-down vote they deserve.
Similarly, Senator Mitch McConnell said in 2005, “Let’s get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up or down votes on the president’s nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who’s in control of the Senate. That’s the way we need to operate.”
Senator John Cornyn, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in 2006, “It is my hope that with the election behind us, the Senate could move forward in a bipartisan manner that treats all qualified judicial nominees fairly and assures them a simple, up-or-down vote.”
Senate Republicans should heed their own advice. Qualified nominees are waiting in the wings to fill important posts that remain vacant thanks to irresponsible Republican obstruction. Calling for the confirmation of these nominees isn’t asking much – merely for the Senate to do their job.