- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2019

Senate Republicans have signaled that approving President Trump’s judicial picks will be one of their top priorities in the new Congress, but two weeks in they haven’t cleared a single one.

The problem — they don’t have many nominees to work on.

The White House on Wednesday sent a half-dozen names of new picks, but about 90 others who were nominated last year but never saw final votes still rest at the White House, where Mr. Trump is deciding whether, and when, to resubmit them.

That puts him behind Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who each sent some nominees back in the first week of the new Congress.

It’s unclear what the holdup is.

The White House, which must take the next steps, didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment on the delay.

One senator rejected speculation that the shutdown was responsible for the delay. Others insisted they’ll get working “soon.”

“As soon as the pipeline starts getting filled again, the committee will start moving them out,” said Sen. John Thune, Republicans’ new whip.

Under GOP leadership, the Senate confirmed 85 of Mr. Trump’s judicial picks in the first two years of his tenure, including two Supreme Court justices and a record 30 circuit court of appeals picks.

But some 90 other nominees were left over at the end of last year and were returned to the White House under a longstanding tradition.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he expects the president will nominate all but a couple of those again.

More than 30 judicial picks had hearings, cleared the committee and were awaiting floor votes at the end of last year, but were blocked from final approval by Democrats.

Mr. Grassley said the committee likely will give the three new senators who joined this Congress — all Republicans — a chance to ask written questions of those nominees, once they are resubmitted, then speed them to the floor.

Others who didn’t have hearings will start almost from scratch, as will the six new nominees Mr. Trump announced Wednesday.

Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, brushed off the slow start.

“They’re working on it,” he said of the White House.

Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, said he isn’t concerned over the pause, saying it’s not as if the president won’t renominate the same people he had previously for federal court seats.

“It’s probably going to be a few weeks at least before the committee gets going with nominees, so there’s not a huge rush,” Mr. Levey said.

Just one judicial pick, a nominee to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been confirmed in the last three months.

Another had been poised for confirmation but stumbled after the chamber’s lone black Republican senator announced his opposition, derailing the pick. Now analysts are wondering whether that nominee, Thomas Farr, will be among those Mr. Trump resubmits.

Democrats already are gearing up for a fight over another nominee blocked last year.

Neomi Rao was tapped to fill the seat left vacant on the circuit court of appeals in Washington, D.C., when Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh reached the Supreme Court.

Ms. Rao, who works in the White House budget office, came under scrutiny after several news outlets reported this week about college writings in which she defended white men, suggested intoxicated women are partly to blame for sexual assaults, and said LGBTQ issues were “trendy” political movements.

“We are hearing that she will be renominated and could be on the first judicial nominations hearing that is scheduled. So, we wanted to be sure full attention was being paid to these concerns. Of course, we would welcome a decision not to renominate her,” said Derrick Crowe, a spokesman for People for the American Way.

Sharon McGowan, legal director at the pro-LGBTQ Lambda Legal, said Ms. Rao must be disqualified.

“I hope this episode serves as a reminder to the entire Trump administration that we are not a ‘choice,’ we are not a ‘trend,’ and the LGBT community deserves judges who will treat them with respect,” Ms. McGowan said.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, said the attacks against Ms. Rao are “absurd,” adding she’s extremely qualified for the federal judgeship.

“She’s an accomplished professional lawyer who has served in two administrations at high levels, she’s been an assistant professor of law and she clerked for Justice [Clarence] Thomas at the Supreme Court. Further, she is a national expert on administrative law and that’s the most important part of the D.C. Circuit docket, so her qualifications are unparalleled,” Ms. Severino said.

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