President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans celebrated a milestone Thursday when they confirmed their 100th judge appointed by Trump, leaving a significant imprint on the judicial branch that could last for decades after Trump leaves office.
The mark is a victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who made confirming judges a top priority of this Congress, and Don McGahn, the former White House counsel who helped select the nominees and worked with McConnell to shepherd them to confirmation.
McGahn, who is popular with Senate Republicans, has come under withering criticism from Trump in the wake of Robert Mueller’s report because McGahn told the special counsel that Trump ordered him to fire Mueller, something that could have been obstructing justice had McGahn not refused to carry it out.
But Trump’s fuming is not likely to last as long as the tenure of 40-year-old Judge Rodolfo Armando Ruiz II, of the Southern District of Florida, who was judicial confirmation number 100.
The heavy focus on confirming judges – and other presidential appointments – came when Democrats took control of the House and GOP senate leaders assessed that they were unlikely to broker deals with Democrats on any significant legislation ahead of the 2020 elections. Instead, they turned to nominations, to build accomplishments they could tout to voters.
Unlike the House, the Senate is in “the personnel business,” McConnell likes to remind people, confirming judges and top officials in the executive branch.
After the vote on Ruiz Thursday, the Senate confirmed two more judges, raising the total under the Trump administration to 102.
According to McConnell’s office, they include 63 for district courts, 37 for circuit courts, and two for the Supreme Court.
Republicans were able to pick up the pace of confirmations last month after McConnell used the nuclear option to change Senate rules to process nominees faster by limiting debate time on them.
They were further aided by the nuclear option triggered in 2013 by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, which lowered the threshold for breaking a nominee from a supermajority 60 votes to a simple majority.
That move essentially eliminated the need for bipartisanship to confirm judicial nominees, meaning the majority party could jam through nominees on the far right and left of the spectrum, something critics think will do long-term damage to the judiciary.
Senate Democrats have strongly opposed many of Trump’s 100 judges – as well as many of his executive branch picks – but because of the 2013 rule change they have been unable to do much more than complain about them at news conferences.
There was little objection to Ruiz, however, who sailed through on a 90-8 vote.