Sen. Chuck Grassley has provided a weak and misleading response to a letter sent yesterday by 16 Iowa and national organizations (including People For the American Way) holding him accountable for a type of obstruction of judicial nominees that he has perpetrated as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. All but five of President Obama's nominees who have had a committee vote scheduled have had to endure a delay at the insistence of committee Republicans. That's 97% of those nominees. This abuse of the minority's right to request a delay is unprecedented. These delays have run one, three, even six weeks, before the nominees are approved by the committee with overwhelming bipartisan support. This is part of a larger pattern of obstructing qualified nominees in every way possible, simply because they were nominated by a Democratic president.
Yesterday, as reported in The Daily Nonpareil, Grassley issued a misleading response. He changed the subject to how many nominees have been confirmed, throwing out misleading and irrelevant statistics:
First of all, for the four years of this administration, we approved 160 nominations, and during the same period of time in the last Bush administration, there were 120 nominations; so don't let anybody tell you we're not moving nominees.
That is true if "same period of time" means "different period of time." But in fact, Grassley is referring to Bush's second term, not his first term. Comparing the real "same periods of time" reveals that Bush had more than 200 nominees confirmed during his first term, many more than Obama's 160.
Bush was bound to have far fewer confirmations in his second term, since the Senate did not obstruct his consensus nominations. His confirmed nominees waited on average only 1/3 as long after committee approval for a floor vote than has been the case for Obama's nominees. That shaved months off their wait time and allowed vacancies to be filled efficiently.
Secondly, we had two Supreme Court nominees [during Obama's first term] and they take time.
What does this have to do with the issue raised in the letter? Are we to believe that during 2011 and 2012, Grassley and his Republican colleagues did not have enough time to look over nominees' records because they had been so busy with the Sotomayor and Kagan nominations back in 2009 and 2010?
Grassley has argued before that Obama's first-term confirmation numbers should be compared to Bush's second term numbers, because both had two time-consuming Supreme Court nominations. But what he fails to tell people is that even then, Bush's judicial nominees were processed far more swiftly than Obama's have been. The disparity in waiting time on the Senate floor is particular egregious with district courts, which at one time were generally immune from partisan gamesmanship: 33 days for Bush's second-term nominees vs. 97 days for Obama's first-term nominees (so far).
Grassley also claimed that Obama's nominees "have been slow in responding to committee questions." When Grassley has delayed votes on all but five nominees, that explanation strains credulity and shows disrespect to the men and women who have come before the committee. Last year, he even demanded a two-week delay for a nominee who had already been approved without opposition several months earlier, in a previous Congress, but who had not gotten a vote on the Senate floor in time for the end of the year. When Sue Myerscough was renominated, she was again deemed well qualified by a unanimous ABA panel (its highest rating), and she was so familiar to the Judiciary Committee that she was not asked to testify again or to respond to individual members' written questions. Yet even her committee vote was delayed by two weeks upon Grassley's demand.
Grassley's "explanations" fall short.
Based on his response, it was no surprise this morning when Grassley blocked a scheduled committee vote on five nominees who had their hearings back in mid-September.
It is the same old story of damaging and unprincipled obstruction by Senate Republicans that we have seen since Obama won his first election. This particular tactic is a part of a larger mechanism of obstruction, one that delays nominees without reason at all stages of the process, from nomination to final confirmation vote. As ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley is doing what he can to contribute to that mechanism of obstruction.
Unfortunately, the ones who pay the highest price are the American people and businesses who lose their day in court because of the historic vacancy crisis that Grassley and his colleagues are intentionally prolonging.