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Obama turns tables on GOP: no compromise on judicial nominations (+video)

Obama slams Republicans for 'unprecedented' obstruction of his judicial nominees, and Sen. Harry Reid vows no compromise on a student loan deal, as Democrats take a page from the Republican playbook.

By Staff writer / June 4, 2013

President Obama pauses as he announces his three nominees to fill vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday. The nominees will be attorney Patricia Ann Millett, Georgetown law professor Cornelia Pillard, and US District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters



President Obama and congressional Democrats are picking fights on student loans and on judicial nominations with their erstwhile GOP tormentors, leaving Washington in the upside-down position of Republicans calling for bipartisan negotiation and Democrats driving the hard lines.

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Such hardball tactics may hurt Mr. Obama’s already shaky relationship with congressional Republicans, particularly those compromise-minded lawmakers in the Senate, that will be key to passing his agenda on immigration and resolving the nation’s long-standing fiscal impasse.

“I preferred it when he sat for dinner with Republicans and said, ‘How can we fix the debt?’ I prefer it when he sits down with eight [senators], Republicans and Democrats, and says, 'How can we fix our immigration system?’ ” says Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, a senator who has dined with the president to discuss fiscal reforms. “I don’t like it when they invent crises as a way of bullying senators. And it won’t be productive for him and it won’t be productive for the country.”

Obama stood by a trio of nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court in a photo op in the Rose Garden Tuesday and excoriated Republicans for “unprecedented” blockage of his judicial appointments.

“For the good of the American people,” Obama said. “It has to stop.”

Later in the day, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada kept up Democrats’ steely demeanor. Asked if Senate Democrats were interested in negotiating with House Republicans over a fix to subsidized student loans, which are set to double at month’s end, Senator Reid was direct.

“I'm not looking for a compromise,” he said. “I'm looking for passing our bill.”

That Obama and Reid would take such a strong stand on these issues is peculiar, in some ways, given the facts on the ground. On student loans, both sides are close, at least conceptually, to a compromise. Meanwhile, on judicial nominations, the numbers give a mixed picture on whether Obama's picks have, in fact, been unfairly treated by the Senate GOP minority.

In May, Republicans passed a fix that would peg the interest rates on student loans to the Treasury Department’s cost of borrowing over a decade – a proposal similar in many respects to one offered in Obama’s own budget proposal. They said there was room for compromise.

But Democrats want to keep student loan rates at their current levels for a handful of years by eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy – which they know is a nonstarter for the GOP-led House.

And so the Senate, Reid said, will vote on both Republican and Democratic student loan proposals on Thursday with little chance of either side bending in the meantime.

On judges, it’s true that Republicans have stymied a D.C. Circuit Court nominee, Caitlin Halligan, for reasons that many legal observers felt were largely about her political leanings and not about her judicial qualifications. But recent studies suggest that the treatment of Obama’s nominees has not been too far outside the recent historical norm.  


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