Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the committee, are in talks about scheduling more judicial nominees at hearings, as progressives pressure Democrats to move faster.
“We’re negotiating that at this point,” Grassley said in a Thursday interview regarding the possibility of scheduling hearings during the August recess. He also acknowledged that Republicans had scheduled hearings during a recess under Donald Trump.
A Durbin spokeswoman said the discussion is over “a hearing schedule—rooted in precedent set by previous chairs—as we work to continue processing judicial nominees efficiently and fairly.”
Canceling the August recess, which some progressives have called for, isn’t an option, Durbin said in a Wednesday night interview. “It’s not going to happen.”
When asked whether he planned to schedule hearings during the recess, as progressives have also encouraged, Durbin said that he’s working on “a different approach.”
“We’re working on something right now,” Durbin said. He added: “The whole motive behind this is to find a reasonable way to schedule more nominees, and we’re working on it.”
The task became more complicated, at least in the short term, after Durbin announced Thursday he had tested positive for Covid-19.
In his absence, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit nominee Roopali Desai via voice vote but held Rachel Bloomekatz for the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and Ana Reyes, nominated to the D.C. District, who were expected to receive votes.
Another committee member, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) remains out as he recovers from a broken hip.
Senate Democrats have faced pressure from progressives to pick up the pace of confirmations in advance of the midterm election which threatens their slim majority that aids those efforts.
Demand Justice, a progressive group focused on judicial nominations, and Indivisible Chicago, a local progressive group, launched digital ads in Durbin’s home state of Illinois urging him to add hearings during the recess.
More than 60 progressive organizations also wrote a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) earlier this month encouraging him to confirm nominees awaiting floor votes before the recess or postpone it.
Progressives have focused many of their suggestions on the Judiciary Committee as its regular schedule of one nominations hearing every two weeks and a maximum of two circuit and three district nominees is one of the few constraints on how many nominations can get confirmed.
Scheduling more nominees at each hearing and adding additional hearings to the schedule are among their suggestions.
In October 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee, then led by Grassley, held two nominations hearings during a recess over the objections of Democrats.
Grassley, at the time, said then-ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) agreed to the schedule knowing the Senate could enter a recess. Democrats argued that previous committees that scheduled hearings during a period where the Senate went into a recess postponed them.
Recently, Durbin indicated he was considering adding more district nominees to an upcoming nominations hearing to make up for Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) decision to not return a blue slip on a US district court and US attorney nominee in his state.
“Believe me, we’re going to have plenty of nominees,” Durbin said.