WASHINGTON — With Oklahoma's senators effectively sidelining themselves, the Senate failed Monday to advance an Oklahoma City magistrate past a Republican blockade and toward confirmation to a federal appeals court.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert E. Bacharach likely will now have to count on President Barack Obama to win re-election to be confirmed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The procedural vote to advance his nomination was 56 to 34, with only three Republicans joining Democrats and independents; 60 votes were needed under the procedural test.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, voted “present,” a tactic that allowed them to vote without registering support or opposition. Both senators have strongly endorsed Bacharach's nomination, and Coburn told The Oklahoman previously that Bacharach was the victim of a “stupid” custom in the Senate of stalling appeals court nominees in presidential election years.
But both chose to uphold that loosely defined custom even though the appeals court seat has been vacant for two years and Bacharach has been widely praised as well-qualified.
In the minutes before he voted, Coburn held intense discussions with Inhofe and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor.
Just after the vote, Coburn praised Bacharach, saying in a speech on the Senate floor that he was the best appellate court nominee that he'd seen in his eight years in the Senate. He called Bacharach a “pawn” in a political game.
“It's not much different than what you see at a playground at kindergarten,” Coburn said.
Coburn offered no detailed explanation of why he didn't vote to break the filibuster, but he again condemned the practice of filibustering judges and said it should end for all noncontroversial nominees.
And he said he would push for Bacharach to be nominated again if Republican Mitt Romney wins the election.
Inhofe said in an interview that voting present was the “least offensive” of the three votes he could have made. He didn't want to vote against Bacharach, he said, but he didn't want to vote against a custom that has been used by both parties for decades. Even if he and Coburn had voted to break the filibuster, Inhofe said, Democrats would have needed two more Republicans to advance the nomination.