President Donald Trump should give special thanks to two U.S. Senators this Thanksgiving weekend. One is still serving in the Senate, the other recently retired. One is a Republican. The other a Democrat. And what should President Trump be thanking them for? Quite simply they have handed him one of the biggest victories any president could claim in the past 45 years.
Yes, this has happened even as one of the most widely covered stories of the past year has been President Trump’s difficulties in working with Congress. The growing rift between him and Republican Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker alone has made headlines for months. For a U.S. president to have this many public feuds with senators from his own party this early in his presidency is really unprecedented and makes for hot news copy.
But that story ignores a bigger and longer-lasting development in the federal judiciary. That brings us first to naming the Republican gift giver: Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa. The longtime member of Congress has big time clout as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Grassley has just used that clout to eliminate one of the final hurdles in the already furious pace of Trump administration judicial appointments to the federal bench.
Late last week, Grassley decided not to honor a Senate tradition of holding up hearings for judicial nominees who aren’t cleared by their own home state senators. That tradition is known as the “blue slip courtesy” born out of time before nationwide communication technology when a given state’s senators had access to much more information about nominees than their colleagues from the rest of the country. Grassley correctly noted that Democrats were now trying to use the blue slips tradition to replace the filibuster, and he’s having none of that. As recently as last month, the Democrats and much of the news media’s punditry were expecting Grassley, who is no fan of the president, to keep the blue slip tradition in place. But Grassley gave Trump this very special gift instead.
And that brings us to the Democrat who provided the initial generous source of President Trump’s solid triumph: Former Senate Majority Leader, and Democrat, Harry Reid. Reid is a major reason this good fortune has befallen President Trump because Reid was the one who killed the filibuster rule for judicial nominees in 2013. And when he killed it, it was gone for good.
Republicans were powerless to stop a series of President Obama’s judicial nominees after that. That is, until they won control of the Senate in the 2014 elections. The GOP may have failed at using that majority to achieve much, especially making even a dent in Obamacare. But they were able to freeze the Obama nomination process in its tracks, most notably by delaying and eventually killing Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court.
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