Last week, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell made an abrupt announcement: he and his party would immediately and arbitrarily take a six-month vacation from doing an important part of their jobs. The task that McConnell declared that he and his followers would refuse to do until after November's elections is confirming nominees to federal appeals courts. His excuse was the "Thurmond Rule," a nebulous Senate tradition that has never actually meant what McConnell says it does. A more accurate name for his plan would be the "Confirmation Vacation."
Throughout the Obama administration, McConnell's strategy has been simply to stall and sabotage as many of the president's initiatives as possible, regardless of the consequences. Last week's judicial nominations decree signals his intention to continue that strategy to the bitter end.
To understand the chutzpah of McConnell's nominations fiat, you first have to understand the mythical "Thurmond Rule" that he is attempting to use as cover. The practice is named for South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, who served for decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the very same senator who conducted the longest filibuster in Senate history in an attempt to stop the passage of the Civil Rights Act!
The fact is that the so-called "Thurmond Rule" is not and has never been a rule. Instead, it's the name for the general principle that the minority party in the Senate will slow confirmation of controversial judicial nominees at some point in the months leading up to a presidential election -- with the hope that a new president will soon be making nominations more to its liking.
The practice has been used by both parties in recent decades to stall controversial nominees as the election approaches. But extending the practice so early and using it to block all nominees, even those with strong bipartisan support, is entirely new. In a clear departure from past custom, McConnell is now declaring that even overwhelming bipartisanship doesn't cut it when it advances a nominee put forth by President Obama.
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