When Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor on Monday, he was, quite clearly irate. (Which, if you know anything about the taciturn and even-keeled Kentucky Republican, is saying something.) The reason for his anger? The tactics he believes Senate Democrats are using to slow down – or even derail – the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.
Here’s the key bit from McConnell: “Democrats have signaled for months they’d put on whatever performance the far left special interests demanded and throw all the mud, all the mud they could manufacture. It’s not like they didn’t warn us. But even by the far left’s standards, this shameful, shameful smear campaign has hit a new low.”
McConnell’s anger comes out of the news, which has seeped out over the past 10 days, of two women going on the record with allegations against Kavanaugh – one allegation of sexual assault in high school and another allegation of inappropriate sexual behavior in college. The women, Christine Blasey Ford and Debra Ramirez, have said they chose to speak out now because they believed their experiences with Kavanaugh were of import with the Senate preparing to vote on his lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Senate Democrats have been involved in both cases. The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, was the recipient of a then-anonymous letter from Ford detailing the allegation that Kavanaugh pressed his body on her and tried to remove her swimsuit when they were both in college. And, four Senate Democrats’ offices received information about Ramirez’s allegation that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were both freshmen at Yale University.
Stormed McConnell: “Senate Democrats and their allies are trying to destroy a man’s personal and professional life on the basis of decades-old allegations that are unsubstantiated and uncorroborated. That, Mr. President, is where we are. This is what the so-called resistance has become. A smear campaign, pure and simple. Aided and abetted by members of the United States Senate.”
Here’s the problem with McConnell’s righteous rage: It conveniently overlooks how he – and Senate Republicans – managed the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
You’ll remember that Garland was then-President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. By mid-March, Obama had nominated Garland, a judge who had drawn bipartisan praise in the past.
But, Senate Republicans – led by McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley – had previously insisted they would neither meet with Garland nor conduct confirmation hearings for him. The reason? They believed that Obama was too close to leaving office to be permitted to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” McConnell said at the time. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
Democrats went bananas, noting that it was 238 days – or almost eight months – between the day Obama nominated Garland and the November 8, 2016, election. Republicans, again led by McConnell, didn’t budge. And they didn’t need to because a) they controlled the Senate and didn’t need to schedule hearings or votes they didn’t feel were necessary and b) their conservative base loved the idea of holding the Scalia seat open on the off chance that Donald Trump won.
Which he did. And he picked Neil Gorsuch, not Merrick Garland, to fill the Scalia vacancy. And then McConnell changed the Senate rules – which had been previously changed by Democratic Leader Harry Reid in 2013 – to allow a simple majority vote to break a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee. Bada bing, bada boom – Gorsuch is on the court.
Which brings us to the Kavanaugh nomination. There’s zero question that Senate Democrats feel extremely hard done and remain embittered over Garland. And that they have pledged to oppose Kavanaugh from the start. But, it also remains true that two women have made allegations against Kavanaugh, accusations serious enough to demand more inquiry and follow up given the stakes of a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.
As Kavanaugh’s accusers have come forward, Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with the process and what they believe to be personal smears aimed at stalling a perfectly capable man’s ascent to the Supreme Court.
“Well, it’s amazing to me that these allegations come out of nowhere at the last minute and that they weren’t brought up earlier in this process,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said Monday afternoon. “And it’s not untypical for our friends on the other side to pull that kind of crap.”
The problem with the comments by Hatch and McConnell is that they only make sense in a vacuum. A vacuum in which their political decision to hold open a court seat – and keep Garland from even having a hearing – doesn’t exist. Of course, it does exist. And it’s why, at least in part, Senate Democrats feel zero doubt or remorse about their efforts to slow the Kavanaugh proceedings for what they believe to be very legitimate reasons.
For McConnell to proclaim this moment as a new low in judicial confirmation politics overlooks his own role in the delay and dismissal of Garland.