A Republican U.S. Senator may be quietly throwing a wrench in a plan to confirm nominees to the federal judiciary.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cancelled the Senate’s traditional August recess, keeping the chamber in session in order to confirm judicial nominees. But McConnell commands a threadlike 50-49 majority, and one of his caucus members was apparently unwilling to give up his summer vacation.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is currently in Zimbabwe serving as an official observer of the country’s historic elections, the first since longtime dictator Robert Mugabe was deposed. According to his office, he plans to stay in Africa for most of the month.
But Flake has also been Donald Trump’s most vocal critic within the Republican caucus, and his excursion deprives McConnell of a badly needed vote—prompting speculation that Flake is perhaps doing so intentionally.
There are currently two nominees to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals awaiting confirmation votes, both from South Carolina—U.S. District Judge Marvin Quattlebaum and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julius Richardson. Flake’s absence may not delay their confirmations, since each received at least some Democratic support when their nominations were reported out of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
But for any nominees that lack bipartisan support, and there are several, confirmation would require every remaining Republican vote plus Vice President Mike Pence, who would ordinarily be spending the summer on the campaign trail.
Flake is expected to be back in Washington for the summer’s biggest confirmation vote, on whether to confirm federal judge Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.