There have been a lot of firsts in the Senate since Mitch McConnell took over leadership of Republicans, and none of them are good. For instance, the Kentucky senator engineered the first total blockade of a president’s Supreme Court nominee, led the minority in 100 or more filibusters per session, ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, and seated a record number of candidates deemed unqualified to serve on lifetime appointments to the federal judiciary. Now McConnell is spearheading the destruction of one the most basic, sacrosanct of Senate traditions: letting the party conferences determine the composition of committees.
McConnell has declared he won’t let Sen. Dianne Feinstein have her wish to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee while she continues to recover from a serious illness. McConnell’s excuse? He said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he’s sticking up for her as evil Democrats are trying to force her out. He says she’s a “titanic figure” and “stateswoman” and that “same far-left voices” are trying to “move her off of the Judiciary Committee indefinitely. Indefinitely.”
Never mind that Feinstein asked to be replaced. It was her idea. “I understand that my absence could delay the important work of the Judiciary Committee,” she said in a statement when she made that request. “So I’ve asked Leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I’m able to resume my committee work.”
RELATED STORY: Dianne Feinstein asks to step down from Senate Judiciary Committee
McConnell didn’t spend all of his time defending Feinstein against her own wishes. He made it abundantly clear that it is about preserving the Trump-packed federal judiciary.
“The supposed emergency is that Senate Democrats are unable to push through a small fraction of their nominees that are so extreme, so extreme and so unqualified that they cannot win a single Republican vote in Committee,” McConnell said.
“Senate Republicans will not take part in sidelining a temporary absent colleague off a committee just so Democrats can force through their very worst nominees,” added McConnell.
This, again, from the man who engineered a court packed with Trump nominees the American Bar Association deemed unqualified, with right-wing extremist nutjobs like District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who most recently declared himself more of an expert on drug safety than the Food and Drug Administration.
If you want to know how tight a rein McConnell has over his conference on this, check out what that famous moderate Sen. Mitt Romney had to say about it: “They’d like Republicans to help them speed the appointment of more liberal justices? Yes—when hell freezes over.”
Setting aside Feinstein’s wishes represents a new low from McConnell. This exact situation is unprecedented, at least in modern Senate history, but this is the first time one conference has absolutely denied the opposing party a committee seat. This is just basic stuff about how the body works, determined by the organizing resolution at the beginning of the Senate. Leadership of both parties divides up how many seats on each committee the majority and minority get, and the composition of those memberships is decided by each party conference. Period. Until now.
McConnell has now destroyed all of the most basic norms and traditions of the Senate, leaving Democrats completely flat-footed, again. While he was engineering that, Dick Durbin, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, was pleading for his Republican colleagues to show “kindness” and to recognize that Feinstein is “in a delicate part of her life and her Senate service. They should stand by her and give her a dignified departure.”
That’s not going to happen. At this point, even if Feinstein were to resign (or worse), McConnell is not going to allow her seat on this committee to be filled, just as he refused to allow a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland during the Obama administration. It’s time for Schumer, Durbin, and the rest of the Democrats to stop playing defense and get as cutthroat and ruthless as McConnell in playing offense.
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It's never too early to start talking about the House! Joining us on this week's edition of The Downballot is Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin, who offers his thoughts on the overall playing field and a wide range of key contests. Jacob explains why Lauren Boebert might have an easier time of it in her likely rematch, how some candidates have a "special sauce" that allows them to keep winning difficult districts, and why he thinks Mary Peltola is favored for re-election despite Alaska's persistent red lean.