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Eight months. Eight days.
According to most Republicans in the U.S. Senate, nearly eight months was not enough time to even consider a Supreme Court nominee from Democratic President Barack Obama before the 2016 election. “Give the people a voice,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the time. Let the American people decide who will be their next president, and then let that president decide the next Supreme Court nominee.
And yet, somehow, those same Senate Republicans (with a few different faces) were willing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee from President Donald Trump eight days before the 2020 election. It’s actually happened in the middle of the election, with more than 50 million people having already voted.
The hypocrisy is staggering, even by Washington standards. Senate Republicans have managed to take the all-too-common practice of flip-flopping and turn it into a guiding principle. Their actions this week reemphasize that their blockade against Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, and their rushed confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett this week, were never about giving the American people a voice. Those actions were about consolidating power.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican who refused to go along with her party’s obvious, unprincipled power grab. While both Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against a procedural motion on Barrett’s nomination, only Collins voted against Barrett’s final confirmation, again highlighting the unfairness of what her caucus did in 2016 compared to this week.
“What I have concentrated on is being fair and consistent, and I do not think it is fair nor consistent to have a Senate confirmation vote prior to the election,” Collins said in a statement on Sunday, before the final vote.
Sen. Angus King was more pointed in his criticism of the process.
“With Americans already casting ballots across the nation, the Senate majority decided to rush a lifetime appointment before voters could be heard,” King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said in a statement after the 52-48 final vote to confirm Barrett on Monday. “Worse still, this happens as the nation needed actual leadership in the form of a coronavirus relief bill to restore stability to our economy and faith in our government. We’re meant to be a body that represents the will of the people; instead, we worked overtime so we could ignore their voices. What a disgrace to our institution.”
A recent poll from Morning Consult and Politico found that 51 percent of voters thought Barrett should be confirmed. A majority of the American people, it turns out, may not care too much about the overwhelming hypocrisy displayed by Senate Republicans this week. But they should.
Though politicians jostling over a Supreme Court fight may seem academic, Barrett’s confirmation could have an immediate and immense impact on everyday life in America. It comes while the Trump administration continues to support and hurtle toward a potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act with no clear or comprehensive way of safeguarding health insurance for millions of Americans or preserving protections for pre-existing conditions.
This vote also pushes the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court further down the rabbit hole of relentless partisanship that prioritizes individual victories over the health and future of our democracy. The arguments from each party tend to fluctuate depending on which is in power at the time; no one has cornered the hypocrisy market, though Senate Republicans are making a strong push right now.
It’s worth noting that, until Senate Democrats deployed the “nuclear option” in 2013 to change Senate rules by sidestepping those same rules, it took 60 votes to clear a filibuster on federal judicial nominations. Republicans were aghast at the move in 2013, which removed the filibuster from most judicial and executive branch nominations. But that didn’t stop them from turning around and doing the same thing for Supreme Court nominations once they controlled the Senate and White House. So if not for the nuclear option fallout, escalated by both parties, the 51-48 vote to end debate on Barrett’s nomination would have been insufficient to move forward.
At some point, the spiral of gamesmanship and retribution has to stop. More on that tomorrow.