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'We're going to clean the plate' on judges, McConnell says

By Chris Cioffi, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed Friday to continue confirming both U.S. district and circuit court judicial nominees through the lame-duck session and right up to the end of the 116th Congress, which must adjourn Jan. 3.

"We're going to run through the tape. We go through the end of the year, and so does the president," McConnell said Friday on the show of conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. "We're going to fill the 7th Circuit. And I'm hoping we have time to fill the 1st Circuit as well."

The 7th Circuit seat opened up after the Senate elevated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in a truncated nomination process that culminated in her confirmation in the Senate on Monday. The other seat, on the 1st Circuit, opened after the death Monday of Juan R. Torruella, 87, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan.

After the vote on Barrett's confirmation, McConnell teed up a Nov. 9 vote on the nomination of James Ray Knepp II to be a judge for the Northern District of Ohio. More than two dozen nominations for lifetime appointments remain pending.

After McConnell's blockade of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees from 2015 through 2016, and the demise of the 60-vote filibuster threshold for nominees, the president and majority leader have been able to fill most judicial vacancies at will.

The appeals court vacancies McConnell mentioned are the only ones at the circuit court level.


With Election Day only days away, McConnell told Hewitt the GOP's chances of holding on to the chamber was "a 50-50 proposition," and McConnell looks to be taking full advantage of the time he may have left in charge in the majority.

During previous presidential election years, senators have invoked the so-called Thurmond Rule, an unwritten agreement that calls for the chamber to stop approving circuit court nominations in the few months before Election Day.

McConnell has not indicated he will be letting up on his tradition-busting push to "leave no vacancy behind," and Democrats don't have many options to slow down the proceedings.

"We're going to clean the plate, clean all the district judges off as well," McConnell said.

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