Cocaine Mitch nets 15 judicial appointments as payment for recess

If Dems want to get down

And campaign on the ground

Cocaine (Mitch) — Eric Clapton, in another universe

Red-state Democratic incumbents finally get a chance to hit the campaign trail, but not without paying a price. Mitch McConnell got fifteen judicial nominees through a logjam in the Senate, where Chuck Schumer had demanded to use up every last minute of debate time to slow down appointments to the federal bench. The Washington Post called it a “ransom.”

I’d bet Cocaine Mitch doesn’t mind that a bit:

Endangered Senate Democrats won their freedom to campaign for next month’s midterm elections Thursday and, in exchange, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got something he highly values — votes on 15 of President Trump’s judicial nominees.

The deal struck by the two parties on Thursday allowed the Senate to wrap up its work until after the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The hiatus comes as a relief to a cadre of Democratic incumbents who face difficult races in states that voted for Trump in 2016. McConnell (R-Ky.) had threatened to keep senators in Washington, voting on Trump’s nominees, until Election Day.

McConnell didn’t just settle for the judges, either. He got nearly two dozen other appointees confirmed at the same time:

But ultimately Democrats paid McConnell’s ransom to get their incumbents back home. Under the deal, the Senate confirmed all 15 judicial nominees Thursday evening. The Senate also confirmed 21 executive-branch nominees by unanimous consent Thursday, including several assistant secretaries of state, an assistant secretary of defense and deputy administrators for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NASA.

Three of the newly confirmed judges will sit on circuit courts; the remainder are district court judges.

Until last night, McConnell had planned to keep the upper chamber in session until the end of October. Under the rules, McConnell said, that was the amount of time necessary to wait out the 30 hours of debate on each judicial nomination. That would have left less than two weeks for incumbents to go back to their states and campaign.

Under normal circumstances, that would have hurt both parties equally, but not this cycle. Democrats are defending 26 seats, including in special elections, while Republicans are only defending nine. Only one GOP seat is in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Dean Heller in Nevada), but ten Democratic incumbents are running in states Trump won two years ago. The longer McConnell kept them locked up in DC, the more time their Republican challengers had to undermine them back home — and Chuck Schumer knew it.

Mike DeBonis points out that this could end up backfiring on Schumer, too:

Trump and McConnell have put a heavy emphasis on judicial nominations — not only confirming Supreme Court justices Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch but installing more than two dozen appeals court judges in Trump’s first 21 months in office, a record pace.

That Democrats would consent to accelerating that effort infuriated liberal activists already incensed at how Republicans muscled Kavanaugh onto the bench despite allegations of sexual misconduct.

Unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct, from thirty-six years ago, that had never arisen before his Supreme Court confirmation despite more than 20 years in the national public eye. More to the point, however, the payment of the “ransom” might well have a deflating effect on the same people Senate Democrats whipped into a fury over the last three weeks. Whatever credit they may have earned for their attempts to block Kavanaugh could well be dissipating as they bail out of Washington this weekend.

It’s a solid win for McConnell, and a reminder of his skill in navigating the Senate with one of the weaker hands dealt to a Majority Leader. And hey, Cocaine Mitch sounds better than … Mama Wasp McConnell? John Kennedy says to stay tuned:

Sen. John Kennedy told reporters Wednesday that his understanding is that McConnell wants to clear all of the outstanding judicial and executive nominations during the lame-duck session and is willing to hold senators in Washington through Christmas if needed.

“He is mad as a mama wasp, and he is determined to get these nominations through,” the Louisiana Republican said. “And I don’t think he’s bluffing.”

Consider this musical interlude a tribute to the tenacity of Cocaine Mitch, at least until someone writes a more specific one.