KEY POINTS

  • On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 13 federal judges
  • Last week, the Senate confirmed eight judicial appointees
  • Democrats find themselves powerless to curb the rapid confirmation process
  • McConnell may be rushing confirmations before potentially disasterous impeachment outcome

With all eyes on the House and its recent vote to impeach President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has kept the Senate busy before its holiday recess by swiftly confirming more than a dozen judicial appointments. Is this a sign that congressional Republicans aren’t as confident about the impeachment trial as they’ve claimed?

On Wednesday alone, two federal district judges were confirmed in the Republican-controlled Senate in the morning. The rules were then modified to limit debate on each appointee to just two hours each during the afternoon session. In total, 13 judges were confirmed before the end of the day.

Last week, McConnell successfully pushed through confirmations for eight judges in three days, despite vehement objections from Senate Democrats. Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and other Democrats have questioned this rushed confirmation process and, in more than several cases, have expressed doubt regarding nominees’ qualifications. Unfortunately for Coons and his peers, there’s little they can do.

Not only do Republicans hold a majority large enough to prevent any attempt at filibustering from Democrats, McConnell has another lever to put pressure on Democrats: Appealing to the simple desire to avoid having to extend sessions into the evening and into the holiday recess. Democrats correctly see their hands as tied, and realize that opposing the hurried confirmation process would, in the end, prove fruitless.

Democrats have also lamented this use of Senate session time, as judicial confirmations have been prioritized over the consideration of hundreds of pieces of legislation already approved by the House.

Although Democrats may feel helpless to curb McConnell’s agenda, the Senate majority leader may be demonstrating an unspoken concern about the impending Trump’s impeachment trial. While he and other Senate Republicans have displayed stolid confidence that Trump will be acquitted, in truth they may not be as certain as they let on. And with Republicans preparing to defend 23 Senate seats next fall, the volatile political climate means it would be dangerous to assume total victory over Democrat challengers, even if Trump survives impeachment.

In other words, McConnell may be simply hedging his bets and trying to achieve key parts of his agenda – namely, filling federal courts with conservative judges – before he potentially loses the current advantage.

If nothing else, the impeachment trial may consume a great deal of the Senate’s time – a concern betrayed in McConnell’s stated desire to conduct the proceedings as quickly as possible – and could slow the Republican agenda on the Hill next year.

Mitch McConnell U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell addresses the media during the 2017 "Congress of Tomorrow" Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Mark Makela