Democratic Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island complained Wednesday about having to attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing while the Senate is out.
The Judiciary Committee held a scheduled hearing on several of President Trump's judicial nominees, including Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid's nomination to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Senate was out of session on Wednesday, which made Coons and Whitehouse unhappy that they still had to attend.
"I regret the specific timing of today's hearing, a day when many colleagues particularly some on my side of the aisle could not be here," Coons said at Wednesday's hearing. "Yesterday, the Senate finished its legislative business so that senators could travel to spend the recess with their families and some are today celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year."
Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday evening. The Judiciary Committee hearing began on Wednesday morning.
Coons said his Democratic colleagues raised complaints with the Republican majority before Wednesday's hearing. But Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who presided as the Judiciary Committee's chairman at Wednesday's hearing, challenged Coons' characterization of the meeting and noted the Senate was originally scheduled to be in today, which is why the hearing was scheduled.
"On the topic of this hearing today, last week my scheduler put this hearing on my calendar because by rule we notice these hearings a week in advance," Tillis said. "None of us knew that we would be out of session until yesterday afternoon or evening. ... [W]e have a number of family members and nominees before us who have been preparing for this moment who traveled some distance to get here and I think that it's reasonable to request members, unless something really pressing occurred from about 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon till today that is more pressing than a judicial nomination hearing, I think it is appropriate and I thank the chairman for moving forward with this hearing."
But Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared even more angry about the ongoing hearing and expressed his "disappointment" at having to go to work on Wednesday.
"I believe it's the first time ever that a hearing has been brought forward under these circumstances with a lot of senators not even in town because the Senate is not in session," Whitehouse said. "So this is a somewhat novel discourtesy in this committee and I hope that we can not make it too much of a pattern to be scheduling hearings when the Senate's not in session and senators are not out of town in order to push nominees through the committee."
Whitehouse continued to complain about "the accepted cartoon pabulum of this committee these days that judges are just neutral cyphers" and griped about Judge Merrick Garland's failed Supreme Court nomination.
No judicial nominee was voted on or advanced through the committee on Wednesday, and Tillis explained to Whitehouse that it was not the first time the Judiciary Committee has held hearings on nominees when the full U.S. Senate was not in session.
"I'm not a lawyer, so precedent may mean something different and legal parlance, but I would remind all the members of the committee that January 9th and 12th 2005, February 21st 2008, and April 16th 2010 were all instances where the Judiciary Committee convened when we were not in session to consider nominations," Tillis said on Wednesday as Whitehouse attempted to interject. "If I may finish, I would also like to point out that the Senate has been in session for 11 legislative days since the end of August. This hearing was noticed a week early. And until last night, every single member of the U.S. Senate had on their calendar this hearing."
Tillis also noted the burden the senators would have imposed on the nominees and their families by canceling the hearing. "[T]here are a number of people who probably have non-refundable tickets and traveled great distances and that is one reason among many that I thank the chair for moving forward with this committee."
The Judiciary Committee will next meet on Tuesday, giving the Democratic senators disappointed that they had to work on a Wednesday several days to brace for the meeting on "Special Counsels and the Separation of Powers."