The threat of a partial government shutdown over Department of Homeland Security funding is gone. But a different form of a partial government shutdown appears to be gaining ground in the Senate.
Right now, the face of this shutdown is Loretta Lynch, who was nominated for attorney general months ago and is still waiting for a Senate vote. But she's just the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s the story: Two months into the new Congress, the Senate has confirmed only two executive-branch nominees Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and new drug czar Michael P. Botticelli. And no judges at all.
This inaction doesn’t get headline coverage, but it should. As judicial vacancies increase, people have to wait for trials; as vacancies increase in executive-branch departments and agencies, the government can’t function well.
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Compare this record with the one in 2007. Same circumstances: A president in his seventh year was sending nominations to a Senate in which the other party had just won a majority.
Through March 4, 2007, Democrats had already confirmed 18 of George W. Bush's nominees: eight judges, including a circuit court judge, and 10 executive-branch officials.
So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are already moving much more slowly than the Democrats did then.
The good news is that the committees appear to be doing their jobs. The Senate’s executive calendar currently has 28 nominees waiting for full Senate action. As far as I know, few if any of these choices are controversial. There’s no reason not to bring them up and confirm them. If that doesn't happen, the Senate is going to fall more perilously behind.
I’ll defend Republicans if they target selected judicial nominees whom they believe are out of the mainstream, or if they use executive-branch nominations to bargain over other things. But simply refusing to allow most positions to be filled is an abuse of power, and McConnell needs to be called on it.
Contact Jonathan Bernstein at email@example.com.