Reid pulled procedural levers Monday to force action on 17 stalled, non-controversial judicial nominees to federal trial courts -- just as the Senate was expected to take up the House-passed JOBS Act, a modest GOP-led bill to encourage economic growth by loosening regulations on small business capital formation.
That presents Republicans with a conundrum. They might not have the 41 votes to mount a blanket filibuster of the nominees, because many of them did not face GOP opposition in committee. In that case, the nominees would go through, but dissenting senators can potentially eat up weeks of floor time while the JOBS Act sits in limbo; or otherwise accede to Reid's demands and hand Democrats a win -- and a bunch of federal judges.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated in a floor speech Tuesday he has no intention of letting the nominees be confirmed and blamed Democrats for trying to gum up the works on the small business JOBS Act.
"Look: This is completely transparent, and it's completely irresponsible," he said.
"If the Democrat-controlled Senate turns to something contentious instead," McConnell said, it'll prove that they're "not serious when they say they're focused on jobs" and would "rather spend their time manufacturing gridlock."
Reid is indeed holding the JOBS Act as leverage. But McConnell himself has acknowledged that these judicial nominees are non-controversial. So if he doesn't have the votes to mount a blanket filibuster of them all and take the issue off the agenda promptly, it would leave lone conservative senators to gum up the works 30 hours at a time per judge. Reid offered to proceed to the JOBS Act immediately -- if McConnell agreed to approve the nominees. McConnell refused.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) used the occasion to demand that the GOP end its "damaging pattern of obstruction and filibusters."
"It is time for Senate Republicans to do their part and not abuse their rights under our Senate rules and procedures," Leahy said on the floor. "It is time for them to end the partisan stalling."
All of this pits Reid and McConnell against each other in a battle of wills. If, in the end, Republicans decide to tie up the Senate floor for weeks with votes on these judges, it will touch off a public spin battle with Democrats over who, in reality, are responsible for holding up the JOBS Act. Alternatively, the leaders could resolve the standoff quietly behind closed doors, if the temperature gets too hot for both. That's what your Congress is doing for you this week.
This article has been updated for clarity.