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Mitch McConnell’s S-Chip?

Thursday, August 2, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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Posted by Generalissimo

If managing the Senate were like managing a baseball team, nobody would ever confuse Harry Reid with Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland or Joe Torre. Wednesday morning, the Democratic majority leader called for a vote on an amendment to the State Children’s Health Insurance bill, or SCHIP, by John Ensign, a measure that failed miserably but had a noticeably low vote total. The vote had taken about 25 minutes, but there were still about 12 members who were working in the Senate but hadn’t voted yet. They all happened to be marking up legislation in Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee. They had been told by Lieberman, who had in turn been told by leadership, that the vote would be held open until they returned. It wasn’t. Creating a ball of confusion on the floor of the Senate, all the members of the committee came racing in immediately after the vote tally was read, and asked one by one that their vote be recorded as if they’d been there, many of them upset because this was the first vote they’d missed. Reid took the ‘too bad’ approach, citing time management, which was comical to watch. The vote was supposed to be a 15 minute vote with a 5-10 minute grace period. If Reid was concerned about wasting time, all he had to do was hold the vote open five more minutes, and any member coming from the committee meeting who wanted to vote could have, allowing the Senate to move on to other business without further delay. Instead, it took an additional 17 minutes of haggling between the two parties, with Reid first denying votes to those who were tardy, then caving in, only to have his motion to let them vote be objected by his own side growing impatient with the circus unfolding on the floor.

Whenever Reid does his keystone cops impersonation on the floor, it means it’s time to watch the proceedings with more interest, because that’s usually when Mitch McConnell strikes. This was no exception. Senator Reid had just left the floor when Republican leader McConnell showed up during the debate on the SCHIP bill and offered an amendment for immediate consideration. You might say it was his own S-Chip, the Southwick chip. He was asked to pause while Senator Reid raced back to the floor, which McConnell granted, and then proceeded to request a Sense of the Senate vote on whether or not Judge Leslie Southwick, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee that has become the poster child both for Democratic stonewalling and for increased willingness of Republicans to threaten shutting down business in the Senate until fair treatment of President Bush’s Appellate nominees returns, should be allowed an up or down vote on the Senate floor.

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There has been a lot written about Judge Southwick, but the key facts are that he has received a unanimous ABA well qualified rating, he was passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year for a lifetime seat on the federal bench, and only was prevented a full confirmation vote on the Senate floor because the Republican leader at the time, Bill Frist, failed to act forcefully enough to get him a vote before the Senate’s session expired. Nothing has changed about the record and qualifications of Judge Southwick between then and now, except that his ABA rating actually improved from well qualified to unanimously well qualified. There is a smoke and mirrors complaint trying to be offered by the left about race and gender views he may hold, but it is such a flimsy argument as to be laughable. But the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem prepared now to latch onto that claim without any supporting evidence to reject his nomination. And according to statements by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, himself a member of the Judiciary Committee, there are negotiations underway between some Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee and Southwick’s home Senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, about a replacement nominee that would be acceptable to the Democrats. So in essence, the Democrats in the Senate now believe they have unconstitutional judicial nominating powers to be able to scuttle a Bush appointee they themselves unanimously approved in the same committee ten months earlier.

McConnell, having been promised action on Southwick and then seeing the Democrats harden their opposition, played an appropriate card by requesting that all Senators be put on record as to whether Judge Southwick deserves a floor vote or not. Senator Reid, never quite able to recognize a box canyon until he hears the echo in his voice, immediately countered by offering his own motion to table McConnell’s amendment. Whether or not Reid recognized that by trying to counter McConnell’s move he checked his own king, there is going to be a vote on the floor of the Senate Thursday morning on the matter of Judge Southwick. Senators Obama and Clinton will now be asked to vote on whether a president’s judicial nominees, one of the most important functions of the executive, should be allowed to have an up or down floor vote by the full Senate. My guess is that Senator Clinton is not exactly happy about having to cast this vote.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote Thursday, look for Senator McConnell to gradually increase the pressure before, and certainly after the August recess, by using procedural maneuvers in order to break the logjam of judicial nominees, especially ones submitted for the Appellate Courts. While critics may view these moves as theatrics, the conservative base that cares about putting quality people on the bench should applaud that there is some fight in the Senate Republicans yet.

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