Senate GOP’s game plan means more Trump nominees, fewer bills

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitch McConnell says the Senate will be in the “personnel business” this year. But the majority leader’s focus on confirming President Donald Trump’s nominees is coming at the expense of any big legislative priorities.

Nearly 100 days into the new Congress, the drive to confirm is adding more conservatives to the courts and putting more Trump appointees in government offices. But Trump’s promises to replace the Affordable Care Act, invest in infrastructure or cut middle class taxes have been essentially shelved.

The result is the GOP-controlled Senate is on a very different path heading into the 2020 election than is the House, where the Democratic majority is churning out a long list of bills on ethics, gun violence and other topics that, while unlikely to become law, show voters their priorities.

Sara Binder, an expert on Congress at George Washington University, said there doesn’t seem to be much room in the Senate “to set out a policy agenda and make some progress toward it.” She added: “It does leave on the table quite a number of issues that don’t get any progress.”

Underlying his strategy, McConnell, R-Ky., engineered a rules change last week to speed the confirmation process, pushing past Democrats’ stalling of Trump’s picks for administration jobs and district courts.

“Look, we know you don’t like Donald Trump, but there was an election,” McConnell argued on the Senate floor to the Democrats, saying the president “is at least entitled to set up the administration.”

Democratic senators see a much more deliberative strategy. Rather than try to work with Democrats — and Trump — to pass bills that can be turned into law, they say McConnell is simply blocking bills from the House while spending his time packing the courts with conservatives judges.

Already McConnell spent the first two years of the administration confirming a record 30 circuit court nominees. With seven more confirmed this year, he’s now turning to the district courts; four nominees already are teed up for Senate action.

“What Leader McConnell, President Trump and Republicans in the Senate are trying to do is use the courts to adopt the far-right agenda that Republicans know they cannot enact through the legislative process,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said during the floor debate.

In an earlier time, McConnell was an advocate of capitalizing on divided government to foster deal-making. But this year, big-ticket items have been elusive. Trump wanted GOP senators to try again to replace Obama’s health care law but without a substantive plan, McConnell quashed that effort until after the 2020 election.

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