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Trump singled out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for a standing ovation, saying his impact in methodically confirming judges in the Senate was “truly amazing.” Trump went on to joke that it was “so easy” to get Supreme Court justices confirmed, in a nod to the contentious Brett Kavanaugh hearings last year.
“Generations from now, Americans will know that Mitch McConnell helped save the constitutional rule of law in America — it’s true,” Trump said.
Taking the microphone, McConnell said that he was “reminded of Election Night,” when he realized that Republicans would have the historically rare opportunity to “set the agenda and move the ball in the right direction.”
“You have been helped enormously by a decision that I made, and these guys backed me up, not to let President Obama fill that Scalia vacancy on the way out the door.”
“You have been helped enormously by a decision that I made, and these guys backed me up, not to let President Obama fill that Scalia vacancy on the way out the door,” McConnell added, as lawmakers in attendance clapped loudly. “And boy, you didn’t blow it. Neil Gorsuch is an all-star, isn’t he?”
Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland during his final year in office did not come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, where it had little chance of success regardless.
In an offhand comment to Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, Trump added, “I looked at your polls — no one’s beating, you John. You don’t have to worry about Beto anymore. That’s for sure. From Texas. He doesn’t like guns, religion or oil. He knocked out all three categories. Somehow, in Texas that won’t work.”
The president also thanked several “warriors” in attendance, including Attorney General Bill Bar, along with GOP Sens. Thom Tillis, Ben Sasse, Marsha Blackburn, “young star” Josh Hawley, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Chuck Grassley.
Grassley, taking the microphone, commended the president not just “for running on a platform, but for standing on a platform.” The president then praised Grassley for effortlessly making former FBI Director James Comey “choke” during testimony.
As to Cruz, Trump remarked, “We were good friends, and then really bad. … but, I said, Ted and I get along good.” The president maintained that he predicted “when it ends, it will be really bad, probably worse than normal — and it was vicious for about four months, and now we have a great relationship again.”
Additionally, Trump thanked the Office of Legal Policy and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who takes a major role in securing judicial appointments, calling him the “strong, silent type.”
“I always wanted to be the strong, silent type, but it never worked out for me,” Trump joked.
The president called the judiciary a key bulwark to protect from the concentration of government power.
“When judges assume the role of a legislature, the rights of all citizens are threatened,” Trump said. “The great English jurist William Blackstone warned that if the judicial power were joined with the legislative, then life, liberty and property would be in the hands of arbitrary judges.”
As the event concluded, lawmakers headed back to the Senate to vote on two more judges.
Analysts said the Trump administration’s progress in securing judicial appointments was monumental.
“This is an exciting milestone for the president,” Judicial Crisis Network policy director Carrie Severino told Fox News.
While a number of Trump’s picks are filling seats previously held by judges appointed by Republican presidents, many are taking the place of liberal jurists appointed by Democrats. The Ninth Circuit, for example, once known as a staunchly liberal Court of Appeals, is gradually evening out. Trump has already placed six judges on the Ninth Circuit bench, which currently has one vacancy and will have two more in the near future.
Should Trump fill all three spots, he will have chosen nearly a third of the roster with nine out of 29 judges.
It was a remarkable turnaround, given that he joked just last year that the Ninth Circuit would overturn his pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey.
Severino described Trump’s appellate nominees as “exceptional,” while stressing their independence.
“That’s the kind of judge America wants,” Severino said, claiming that the ability to select judges for lifetime positions is a significant part of why Trump was elected in 2016.
Democrats have been fierce in their opposition to several of Trump’s selections. Steven Menashi, who was nominated to the Second Circuit, was grilled during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over his past writings and his work with the White House counsel’s office. A segment on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show discussed a law journal article Menashi wrote in 2010, titled “Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy.” Maddow cited Menashi’s use of the term “ethnonationalism” to suggest he is aligned with white nationalists, alleging he’s on the “fringe of racial thinking.”
During questioning, Hawley, R-Mo., said that Menashi had faced “unusually personal” and “vicious” attacks.
Menashi denied the allegations, saying, “It’s hurtful and I think it misrepresents what I’ve written.”
The American Bar Association (ABA), which evaluates federal judicial nominees, rated Menashi as “Well Qualified,” its highest mark.