Republicans Undermine Confirmation Process

Nathan Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief

President Donald Trump announced one of the most significant moves of his young and turbulent presidency Tuesday night when he nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court Justice.

Many on the left believe Gorsuch’s nomination should be blocked in much the same way that Republicans obstructed the hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Court. Other prominent progressives, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have already expressed concern over Gorsuch’s judicial record on Twitter.

As a progressive, I shared in the outrage over Republican obstruction to Garland last year. I found it absurd that conservatives were blowing off the normal Constitutional process of confirming nominees. As of Tuesday, I was of the mind that Senate Democrats should not sink to the level of Republicans and should give Gorsuch a fair hearing and vote despite his strongly conservative record.

Primarily, I thought that threatening to leave a Supreme Court seat vacant for the duration of Trump’s presidency sets an even more dangerous precedent than the one set by Senate Republicans during the Garland saga. I also thought it important to consider that Gorsuch is not as radically unqualified as many of Trump’s other nominees — Betsy DeVos, anybody? When Gorsuch was nominated to the 10th Circuit by President George W. Bush in 2006, Democratic Senators, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, all voted to confirm him. Finally, I believe that elections have consequences — Gorsuch is the kind of conservative nominee that one could reasonably expect from any Republican president.

I still believe all of these things to be true. However, I no longer believe that Gorsuch — or any of Trump’s nominees, for that matter — should be entitled to a vote in the Senate until such a time that Senate Republicans begin to conduct themselves in a way that is honorable and respectful of the confirmation process.

On Wednesday morning, the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to change the committee’s standing procedural rules without a single Democrat present. They did so in order to push Treasury Secretary Nominee Steve Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Tom Price out of committee and put them up for confirmation votes in the Senate.

Democrats had been boycotting a committee vote on both Mnuchin and Price for two days, citing serious concerns over potential conflicts of interests for both nominees. Those same Democrats had also stated that, as soon as their concerns were addressed, they would be ready to move forward with a vote.

Ignoring these requests for transparency and choosing to entirely eliminate Senate Democrats from the process was a dirty, underhanded move by Senate Republicans that betrays a disturbing lack of respect for the process of Cabinet confirmations and for the opposition party.

Throughout these past few weeks and many arduous confirmation hearings, Senate Democrats have not been blowing hot air. They have been asking meaningful questions of Trump’s nominees, many of whom are shockingly underqualified or ill-suited for the positions they are being nominated to fill. And many Democrats have been willing to compromise in good faith with their Republican colleagues, voting to confirm some or all of Trump’s nominees despite furious objections from their base.

Giving nominees a hard time is part of the confirmation process — it is important to ensure that the Senate approves individuals who will truly work in the best interests of the American people. By probing Trump’s nominees, Senate Democrats were playing by the rules and doing their jobs. I thought that they should continue to do the same with Gorsuch’s nomination.

But it is difficult to play ball with someone who will beat your head in with the bat when your back is turned.

Until such a time as Senate Republicans show themselves to be leaders capable of handling partisan discourse and disagreement with maturity, Senate Democrats should do everything in their power to block any nominee to the Supreme Court not named Merrick Garland.

These are deeply troubling and divisive times. I doubt anybody will enjoy a long, drawn-out battle against confirming a new Justice. But Senate Republicans have made clear that such a fight is, at this point, the best remaining option for Democrats if they are to maintain their strength and integrity throughout this difficult transition process.