Senate Democrats skip hearing amid post-Kavanaugh tensions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just when it seemed the partisan divide on the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn’t get much worse, it did.

Every Democrat on the panel skipped a Wednesday hearing on judicial nominations. The Democrats said the hearing should have been canceled because the Senate is not in session ahead of next month’s election and they described going ahead with the hearing as unprecedented.

Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said he had already delayed the hearing at the request of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat. He said he wouldn’t agree to a “last-minute withdrawal.”

Republicans also said that objections to the hearing came just a week before the hearing date and after families of the judicial nominees had already made travel arrangements. They also released the attendance record of Democratic lawmakers on the committee for previous confirmation hearings held this year to highlight how lightly attended some were.

The dispute comes after the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a bruising fight that played out on the Judiciary Committee. The panel advanced Kavanaugh’s nomination after hearing testimony from Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual assault. Kavanaugh denied the allegation.

The Senate has so far confirmed 84 of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, and Republicans are eager to confirm more before the year is up. By comparison, the Senate confirmed 60 of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees in his first two years.

Six prospective federal judges testified at Wednesday’s hearing, most notably Allison Jones Rushing, 36, of North Carolina, who is nominated to serve on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in Richmond, Virginia.

Grassley arranged for Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., to chair the hearing. Grassley did not attend. In all, four Republicans attended all or portions of the hearing. The committee has 21 members.

Trump and Republicans senators have cited judicial confirmations as one of their biggest success stories. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that “what we’re doing in the area of the court, I think, is the most important thing we’re doing.”

Liberal advocacy groups called Wednesday’s hearing a sham. They noted that other Senate committees had canceled the hearings scheduled to take place during the recess.

“Republicans are so eager to remake the federal courts in Trump’s image that they continue to violate Senate traditions, rules and norms,” said Kristine Lucius of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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