Less than a week after ending a bruising partisan fight over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Senate joined the House in heading home for the November mid-term elections, as Democrats and Republicans agreed to allow approval of a package of GOP nominations, freeing those Senators who are up for re-election to return home to campaign.
The House left town two weeks ago; both chambers will return for their next votes on November 13, a week after Election Day.
Democrats cut the deal despite a lot of grumbling from their own side, as many more liberal activists wanted the Senate to stay in session, and have Democrats force votes and debates over any judicial nominee by President Trump.
15 judges were approved in the deal, which included three nominees to federal appeals courts, and a dozen federal district judges.
While Democrats have forced Republicans to use extra debate time repeatedly on nominations, GOP leaders have been relentless in using time on the Senate floor for judicial picks by President Trump in 2017 and 2018, confirming 84 judges to all levels of the judiciary.
And with the rules changes in the Senate – spearheaded by Democrats back in 2012 – which eliminated the use of the 60 vote filibuster against judicial nominees, there isn’t much Democrats can do to stop those Trump nominations, unless Republicans refuse to support the choices.
“Trump and McConnell are confirming conservative judges at a breakneck pace in what’s sure to be Trump’s most enduring legacy,” said Brian Fallon, who worked for Hillary Clinton and the Obama Justice Department, and has tried to spur Democrats to fight harder to block President Trump’s nominees.
“Senate Must Stop Rubberstamping of Trump’s Takeover of Federal Courts,” boomed a press release by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as liberal groups denounced the deal.
But without any votes from Republicans – Democrats are powerless to stop the GOP from confirming judges. Their best weapon is to simply win a majority in the Senate in the upcoming election.
A number of other nominations by the President were also approved late Thursday, including a series of ambassadors.
As GOP Senators crowed about their record number of judicial confirmations, they also took aim at Democrats on the way out of town.
“Senate Democrats must want to get out of Washington to campaign,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
One note – while the House and Senate will not conduct any legislative business until after the elections, but Congress is not officially in ‘recess’ – so, President Trump will not be able to make any recess appointments.