WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn said Friday that he hadn't decided whether he would vote against his party's leadership Monday to help an Oklahoman get confirmed to federal appeals court.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, strongly supports U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Bacharach's nomination for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. And he said in June the custom of blocking judicial nominations in the last few months of a presidential election year is “stupid.”
In an interview Friday, Coburn said Bacharach is “just a stellar candidate and he ought to get through.” But he said he would weigh over the weekend whether to do that over his party's objections.
“I want to do the right thing,” he said. “I haven't decided what that is yet.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, who has also expressed strong support for Bacharach's nomination, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Bacharach may need both of his home-state senators to help his cause on Monday.
Bacharach, who has heard more than 3,000 cases as a federal magistrate in Oklahoma City, received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. But his nomination, along with that of three others cleared by the committee for circuit courts, has been stalled by Senate Republicans.
Coburn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he didn't know Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was going to file a procedural motion on Thursday to break the Republican blockade on Bacharach.
Coburn and Reid have clashed many times over the years, but Coburn has stepped up his criticism of the leader recently, blaming him for Senate inaction on pressing fiscal issues. Democrats have countered that Republican stalling tactics prevent the Senate from conducting business.
Coburn said Friday that voting for Reid's procedural motion would “reward” Reid for the way he has run the Senate.
Reid's motion calls for a vote Monday afternoon. That vote will not be on whether to confirm Bacharach to the circuit court, which is a step below the Supreme Court. Rather, it will be a vote to break the GOP filibuster; 60 of the 100 senators must approve it. If it is approved, the Senate could then confirm Bacharach with a simple majority.
Democrats control 51 seats, and there are two Independents who typically vote with the Democrats; if those 53 senators vote Monday to break the Republican filibuster, seven GOP senators will have to go along to push Bacharach's nomination to a vote.
The 60-vote threshold for proceeding to business has become the norm in the highly partisan and closely divided Senate.
The GOP blockade of President Barack Obama's nominations to circuit courts began without any public announcement, though it was expected Republicans would stall votes on the lifetime appointments as the presidential election drew nearer, in hopes that Obama will lose his re-election bid and a Republican president could make new nominations.
Republican senators say Democrats have used the same tactic in presidential years, stalling or denying straight votes for GOP nominees for appeals courts.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that in the past five presidential election years, Democrats have not denied an up-or-down vote to a Republican nominee who had bipartisan support.
Attorney Glenn Sugameli, who tracks the judicial process for the Washington-based Judging the Environment Project, said the custom of blocking votes in presidential election years has never applied to noncontroversial nominees like Bacharach.
Tulsa attorney John Dowdell, a nominee for a vacant district judgeship in Tulsa, is also awaiting a vote. The election-year stalling tactics have not typically applied to district judgeships.