Senate Republicans blocked a simple request from an ailing Democratic colleague Tuesday, refusing to allow Sen. Dianne Feinstein to temporarily step away from her seat on the Judiciary Committee while she continues to recover from a serious illness. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put the request on the floor, asking for unanimous consent for Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin to serve as the interim committee member, and Sen. Lindsey Graham objected, filibustering Feinstein’s request.
You might think that this latest unprecedented shattering of the norms by the GOP would be enough to make the scales finally fall from Democrats’ eyes. That they would use this opportunity of outrageous obstruction from Republicans to justifiably strike back with a–completely legitimate–move of their own. You would think that right now would be a great time for Committee Chair Dick Durbin to announce that he was no longer honoring blue slips in retaliation for the Republicans blocking a Feinstein replacement.
You would be thinking wrong. After the blocked vote, Durbin told Huffington Post: “We’re not at that point yet” of abandoning the blue slip tradition.
That’s the Senate courtesy of having senators signal their support for a nominee from their states with a blue piece of paper, the blue slip. In order to advance a nominee, both senators from the state have to turn in the blue slip. If they do, the nominee moves forward. If one or both of them don’t, the nomination is vetoed. But it’s not an official rule of the Senate, and it’s come and gone over the years. Durbin is now following the pattern set by the Republicans the last time they held the majority, honoring blue slips for district court judges and not for appeals court nominees.
Which would be a fine thing if Republicans acted like Democrats. They don’t. Minority Democrats turned in blue slips for more than 130 of Trump’s district court nominees, and 84 of them ended up being seated. So far in Biden’s term, Republicans have provided just a dozen blue slips. Durbin still seems to be clinging to the notion that because Democrats play nice, Republicans will too.
That’s after watching Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson pull a fast one last year by endorsing a nominee and then reneging, refusing to provide the blue slip. Right now, Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith is using the process in the most cynical and bigoted way to block nominee Scott Colom, a northeast Mississippi district attorney who also happens to be Black.
HuffPost asked Durbin if he is frustrated by this on Tuesday. “Of course I’m frustrated!” he responded. But apparently not enough to do anything about it.
It’s not just rebalancing the federal judiciary to dilute the power of Trump judges that’s at stake now. Durbin himself has said he wants to hold a hearing about Supreme Court ethics following reports of Justice Clarence Thomas’ long and allegedly personally lucrative friendship with billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow. Durbin called the report of the “20 years of gift travel on yachts and chartered planes” Thomas enjoyed “outrageous.”
He said that Thomas’ failure to disclose the real estate deals he had with Crow, including his purchase of Thomas’ mother’s home, was “beyond anything I could imagine at the Supreme Court level.”
Guess what the Judiciary Committee Democrats can’t do if they don’t have all 11 members? They can’t issue subpoenas to get all the documentation of Thomas’ ethical lapses, because subpoenas require a majority vote.
Of course Republicans aren’t going to allow Feinstein’s seat to be filled because they don’t want the committee to look into Thomas’ alleged corruption, just like they aren’t going to cooperate on filling judges’ seats because Durbin is being nice to them.
The one thing Durbin could do to remind Republicans that Democrats do still have the majority is to act like it. End the blue slip farce and get back to balancing our courts while the opportunity exists. The clock is ticking and time is likely running out on a Democratic Senate majority. The time to act is now.
Dianne Feinstein asks to step down from Senate Judiciary Committee
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Markos and Kerry are joined by Aaron Rupar today to discuss what he is seeing in the right-wing media landscape. Rupar is an independent journalist whose Public Notice Substack is a must-read for those who want to know how truly outrageous the conservative movement is. We are addicted to his Twitter account, with its never-ending stream of Republican lunacy all captured on video.