It’s an issue that affects both parties in Washington as we approach the next presidential election: at what point do the Republicans who run Congress essentially shut down until November of 2016, refusing to cooperate in the normal conduct of business until they find out if the next president is one of theirs?

One important straw in the wind blew through Washington this week, per this report from HuffPost‘s Jennifer Bendery:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that he doesn’t expect to confirm any of Obama’s circuit court nominees for the remainder of his time in office, a blow to White House efforts to fill empty federal court seats despite working with a Republican-controlled Senate.

In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell was asked about judicial confirmations.

“So far, the only judges we’ve confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican senators,” McConnell said. Asked if he expects that to be the case through 2016, McConnell said, “I think that’s highly likely, yeah.”

If McConnell is serious, that means at least two GOP-backed circuit court nominees are toast.

Having decided not to rescind the Democratic-passed “nuclear option” and restore the power to filibuster sub-SCOTUS judicial (or executive branch) nominations, it’s not that surprising that McConnell doesn’t want to run the risk of Obama circut court nominees getting onto the bench by majority vote. But the bigger issue is probably just preserving open seats on the bench for the Next President of the United States, if it’s a Republican.

Now obviously there are “must-pass” pieces of legislation still in play, and a formal “government shutdown” is very unlikely. But we will probably see a “small shutdown” that will suspend any significant activity in Congress that’s not designed to create a 2016 campaign issue fo the GOP.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.