More Senate confirmation news: how Grassley and Harkin voted

Bipartisan consensus allowed a group of President Barack Obama’s nominees to be confirmed easily this week, but a Republican filibuster nearly blocked the confirmation of one federal agency head. In addition, Senator Chuck Grassley again pushed back against claims that Republicans have dragged their feet on confirming federal judges during Obama’s presidency.

Details are after the jump.

Before adjourning for the August recess, senators approved a group of uncontroversial Obama nominees by voice vote. Jeremy Herb reported for The Hill that many of the nominations were for military positions, most notably General Martin Dempsey, confirmed to a second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Admiral James Winnefeld.

Senators also confirmed Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations yesterday by 87 votes to 10 (roll call). Senator Tom Harkin and everyone else in the Democratic caucus supported Power’s confirmation, joined by nearly 30 Republicans, including Grassley.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the president’s nominees, however. The small group of Republicans who allowed nominees for the National Labor Relations Board to come to a vote earlier this week shrank further on July 31, when the Senate considered Todd Jones for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In fact, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp had to fly back from North Dakota to provide the 60th vote for cloture (ending debate) on Jones’ nomination. Six Republicans joined the Democrats to pass that cloture motion, but Grassley was one of the 40 Republicans who tried to block the confirmation by filibuster. Senators then narrowly confirmed Jones by 53 votes to 42. Grassley opposed Jones, while Harkin did not vote but presumably would have supported his confirmation.

As Gavin Aronsen reported for Mother Jones,

Jones, an attorney and former Marine, has served as the acting head of the agency since 2011. He becomes its first permanent director since 2006, the year that the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied Congress to require that ATF directors be confirmed by the Senate.

When President Obama nominated Jones to head the ATF in January, politicos expected a gun-lobby showdown. But although the NRA has opposed all ATF nominations since the 2006 rule change and for decades has prevented the agency from fully enforcing gun laws, it unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that it would not take a position on Todd’s confirmation vote. The Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association that represents gun manufacturers, announced its support for Jones the same day.

NRA opposition has torpedoed other Obama nominees in the past. I wonder why they decided not to go to the mat against Jones. On a related note, Tim Murphy published an interesting backgrounder earlier this year on “How Republicans and the NRA Kneecapped the ATF.”

Meanwhile, senators unanimously confirmed Raymond Chen as an appeals court judge yesterday. In a floor statement preceding that vote, Grassley (who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee) again asserted that judicial nominations are “proceeding at [a] quick pace” during Obama’s presidency. I’ve enclosed the full text of his statement at the end of this post. Other analysis has indicated that Obama’s judicial nominees are waiting a long time for votes, even as vacancies on federal courts are at historically high levels.

Finally, senators cast one significant vote this week that was unrelated to confirmations. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky sought to “redirect certain foreign assistance to the Government of Egypt as a result of the July 3, 2013, military coup d’etat.” A motion to table Paul’s motion derailed his effort, but Grassley was one of the 13 Republicans who supported Paul on that point.

Confirmation of Judicial Nominees Proceeding at Quick Pace

Grassley Statement on Raymond Chen Nomination

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the Nomination of

Raymond T. Chen to be United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mr. President,

   I support the nomination of Raymond T. Chen, to be United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit.  This is the 29th judicial confirmation this year.  With today’s confirmation, the Senate will have confirmed 200 lower court nominees; we have defeated two.  That’s 200-2.  That is an outstanding record.  That’s a success rate of 99 percent.  I think we’ve had a pretty outstanding record this Congress.

   And we have been doing that at a fast pace.  During the last Congress we confirmed more judges than any Congress since the 103rd Congress, which was 1993-94.

   So far this year, the first of President Obama’s second term, we’ve already confirmed more judges than were confirmed in the entire first year of President Bush’s second term.    

   At a similar stage in President Bush’s second term, only 10 judicial nominees had been confirmed.  So we are now at a 29 to 10 comparison, with President Obama clearly ahead of where President Bush was at a similar time frame.  

   And, as I said, we’ve already confirmed more nominees this year – 29 – than we did during the entirety of 2005, the first year of President Bush’s second term, when 21 lower court judges were confirmed.

   With regard to hearings, the record shows that President Obama is being well received here in the Senate, much better than President Bush during the first year of his second term.

   Last week we held the eleventh judicial nominations hearing this year.  In those hearings we have considered a total of 33 judicial nominees.  

   Compare this favorable treatment of President Obama during the beginning of his second term versus the first year of President Bush’s second term.  At this stage in President Bush’s second term, the Committee had held not 11 hearings with 33 judicial nominees, but only 3 hearings for 5 nominees.  And all of those were hold-overs from the previous Congress.

   For the entire year of 2005, Senate Democrats only allowed 7 hearings for a grand total of 18 judicial nominees.

   It is hard to believe, but in 2005 no nominations hearings on judicial nominees were held during April, May, June or July.  Four months with no judicial nominations hearing.  Yet we recently rushed through hearings on nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, plus a number of district nominations.

   In fact, in just the last few weeks we have held hearings for fourteen judicial nominees.  That’s not very far behind the entire output of 2005 – seven hearings, 18 nominees.

   Again, we have already exceeded that number – 11 hearings and 33 judicial nominees.  The bottom line is that the Senate is processing the President’s nominees exceptionally fairly.

   President Obama certainly is being treated more fairly in the first year of his second term than Senate Democrats treated President Bush in 2005.  It is not clear to me how allowing more votes and more hearings than President Bush got in an entire year amounts to “unprecedented delays and obstruction.”   Yet, that is the complaint we hear over and over from the other side.

   So I just wanted to set the record straight-again-before we vote on this nomination.

    Raymond T. Chen is nominated to be United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit.   He received his B.S. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1990 and his J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1994. Upon graduation, Mr. Chen worked at Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear in California from 1994 to 1996. As an associate, he drafted district court briefs and legal memoranda on specific patent and trademark issues as well as several patent applications spanning various technologies.

   In 1996, Mr. Chen joined the Senior Technical Assistant’s Office at the Federal Circuit in Washington as one of three technical assistants. There, he researched and wrote memoranda, commenting on drafts of court opinions for both legal and technical accuracy as well as identification of conflicting legal precedent, occasionally writing for individual judges.

   From 1998 to 2008, Mr. Chen served as an Associate Solicitor in the Office of the Solicitor at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. During that time, he was first or second chair on several dozen Federal Circuit briefs defending the agency’s patent and trademark decisions, and he presented approximately 20 arguments in the Federal Circuit.

   He regularly appeared in district court defending the agency against lawsuits brought under the Administrative Procedure Act. He was also a legal advisor on several patent policy and legal issues within the agency, occasionally prosecuting patent attorneys in administrative proceedings for violating the agency’s code of professional responsibility.

   In 2008, Mr. Chen became the Deputy General Counsel of Intellectual Property Law and Solicitor. There he supervises other lawyers in the Solicitor’s Office and has presented oral arguments in some of the seminal patent cases before the Federal Circuit.  In addition, Mr. Chen deals with higher level patent and trademark policy issues within the agency. He also coordinates the determination of what positions the United States should take as an amicus in intellectual property cases before both the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit. Lastly, Mr. Chen is responsible for the review and clearance of all new regulations and amendments to existing regulations for the Office of the Solicitor.

   The ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary gave him a unanimous “Well Qualified” rating.

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