The Senate confirmed one of President Trump’s judicial picks Tuesday, the first since the midterm elections, in what Republican senators said they hoped was renewed attention to a key priority.
It took Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote to confirm Jonathan A. Kobes to a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, making him the 30th circuit court nominee by Mr. Trump to be approved.
He is the first judge to win confirmation since Oct. 11, when the Senate last cleared a slate of nominees and then shut down ahead of the midterm elections. Since senators have been back, their work on judicial nominees has been derailed by insurrections within their own ranks and by the death of President George H.W. Bush, which upended the floor schedule.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed Tuesday to try to get things back on track, and even warned senators to be prepared to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to finish up business — including nominees.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said the slow pace concerns him.
It has led to a backlog of 31 judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes by the full Senate and another 35 awaiting committee action.
The GOP is facing several hurdles.
Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, has said he will not to support any of the president’s judicial picks until the Senate takes up legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by the president.
On Tuesday, that forced Mr. Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote to approve Mr. Kobes, 51-50.
Mr. Flake’s resistance also has slowed things down in the Judiciary Committee, where Mr. Grassley has twice had to cancel weekly meetings when more than 20 judicial nominees were up for consideration.
The panel is divided 11-10 in favor of Republicans, so Mr. Flake’s defection effectively blocks action.
Republicans also suffered a setback on the floor two weeks ago when Sen. Tim Scott, the chamber’s only black Republican, said he couldn’t support Thomas A. Farr, a controversial pick for a judgeship in North Carolina.
Mr. Farr’s nomination remains in limbo, with GOP leaders delaying a final vote.
Despite the slowdown, President Trump has had more judicial nominees confirmed than his predecessor, Barack Obama. He’s had 85 federal judges confirmed in just under two years, including his two picks to the Supreme Court.
Mr. McConnell is working on a year-end package of nominees with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, which will determine how many of the 31 picks awaiting floor action will see final action.
“That’s going to be a subject of a negotiation between Sen. Schumer and Sen. McConnell, and what sort of package would have to clear in order for us to be able to go home for Christmas,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
A similar package was brokered Oct. 11 when the two sides agreed to confirm 15 judicial nominees before leaving Washington ahead of the elections.
Marge Baker, executive vice president of the progressive People for the American Way, said she’s worried senators will attempt another package at year’s end.
She said lawmakers should focus on other more pressing issues.
“The Senate should not be entertaining any package of judicial nominees as this Congress winds down. Clearly they have ample business to attend to including continued funding to avoid a government shutdown,” she said.