Republicans Confirm More Trump Judges Amid Pandemic Relief Talks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for leadership elections on Capitol Hill last month. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Republicans pressed ahead with confirming two of President Donald Trump’s nominees to the federal bench on Tuesday, as a partisan face-off over new coronavirus relief and a massive spending package continued. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for the holdup in passing pandemic aid and an over $1 trillion omnibus bill that would avert a government shutdown on Dec. 11. Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued it was the GOP majority that had to demonstrate “a measure of bipartisanship.” 

“The leader’s view seems to be that the only things that should be considered in the next Covid relief bill are items that Republicans approve of, even if the needs of the country go way beyond what’s on their narrow list,” he said from the Senate floor on Tuesday. 

But in the meantime, McConnell said, Republicans would move ahead with the “pressing business” of seating Trump judicial nominees. 

The Senate confirmed with a 53-39 vote on Tuesday morning Taylor B. McNeel to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Mississippi. 

Hours later, senators again voted 58-35, this time to confirm J. Philip Calabrese as a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Ohio, bringing the total number of judges confirmed under the Trump administration to 229. 

Four more of Trump’s picks for the federal bench are waiting to be confirmed with a vote in the Senate. Another four nominees are soon to be reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats are calling for a halt to judicial confirmations during the lame-duck period. 

McNeel comes to the federal bench as a partner with the firm Brunini, Grantham, Grower and Hewesto, where he focused on commercial litigation and headed the Mississippi Gulf Coast office. The soon-to-be 37-year-old judge earned his bachelor’s and law degree from the University of Mississippi. 

Calabrese currently serves on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Before taking on the Ohio judgeship last year, he was a partner at Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur and led the firm’s class action practice. 

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Calabrese once served as a clerk on the Sixth Circuit under U.S. Circuit Judge Alice M. Batchelder. 

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Senate Judiciary Democrat for now, pressed both nominees in questions for the record on their views on landmark Supreme Court decisions on abortion and rights for same-sex couples. 

Both Calabrese and McNeel said decisions like Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are binding in a district courtroom and committed to faithfully apply them. 

Dodging a question on whether Roe can be considered “super-precedent,” McNeel wrote he was prohibited from commenting as a judicial nominee on “the degree to which I may believe any decision has obtained greater precedential status than another.”

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