I know the way Washington works. Liberals will support liberal legislation or liberal ideology and conservatives will do likewise. This I can respect. But Senators that might not be as ideologically driven should see past that. I emphasize the word “should.” But in today’s Washington, it is anything but and that is a stunning departure not only from reality, but also how nominations were treated in the days of yore. The same goes for nominations. Senators of both parties are understandably hesitant to vote against legislation or a nominee put forth by their own party and if they feel they must straddle long enough to make sure the votes are there to confirm that person, or take what is called a “pass” from their party leadership.
To say that only Republicans operate this way would be disingenuous. But they control government right now and, in the face of a number of Trump cabinet nominations whose qualifications or personal competence for the job has not simply been questioned but has been on full display for the nation to mock, seeing the Senate cobble together just enough votes for basically every nominee is disheartening. In fact, it is special interest, not representative government.
There was one exception earlier this week when Labor Secretary-designate Andrew Puzder withdrew amid a near certain defeat but it’s comforting to know that Senators could not possibly justify spousal allegations for presidential loyalty. It must be said however that the deal-breaker for many was not the allegations, but that Puzder didn’t pay taxes on a nanny and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained “a strong supporter” of Puzder’s almost to the end. Whatever? But those extraordinary circumstances aside, Senators were not willing to tell the president’s nominee to take a hike and consented to some by the barest of margins (Mick Mulvaney was confirmed 51-49 as Director of Office of Management and Budget while Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary after Vice-President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie in her favor – the first time in history that has happened for a cabinet nominee.
Though the voting went down to the wire, the numerical outcome was no accident.
Whether it was vote-trading, waiting until the ducks were in a row or simply not having the political courage to oppose the President and actually ensure his defeat (Sue Collins and Lisa Murkowski opposing DeVos only after seeing to it that no one else would follow), these votes have real consequences. In the past, the nation has known to suffer for some of those choices. History will inevitably repeat itself.
The other angle is that Trump is not an establishment candidate and no Senator aside from his now-Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, backed his candidacy in the Republican primaries. Also, though the administration is in its infancy, many appear to be genuinely unhappy with his style, how he is governing and don’t like the idea of his roughshod style. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to send one nominee they have problems with down early.
DeVos was a perfect choice to display that. You couldn’t put a gun to my head and make me think that every single one of the 50 Republicans Senators who voted for DeVos confirmation felt that she was eminently qualified. John McCain did oppose Mulvaney due to concern over Mulvaney’s views on defense spending but only made his plans clear the night before the vote). The DeVos nomination was reminiscent of a Judicial fight in the Reagan nomination. Daniel Manion was nominated by President Reagan to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He won confirmation by a vote of just 50-49. Now given that this occurred 30 years ago, there is little to know whether “vote trading” occurred but the squeaker of the DeVos confirmation hearkens back to that scenario.
There was a time when qualifications – even to the opposing side, was what drove a nomination to approval. During the Nixon administration, two of the President’s nominees for the Supreme Court – Carswell and Haynsworth, were rejected on bi-partisan roll calls. In fact, the 38 Democrats who opposed Carswell were joined by 13 Republicans and in Haynsworth’s case, it was even more – 17 Republicans. In 1987, the number of GOP Republican opponents to Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork dwindled to five (two Democrats voted for confirmation) but it was still a matter of Senators from either party uniting to defeat someone either considered unqualified, outside the mainstream or both. Today, it is totally different. And partisanship doesn’t stop with nominees.
It’s worth noting that both Collins and Murkowski voted with every one of their to sustain the gag order on Elizabeth Warren after she read a letter from a Coretta Scott King during the debate on Sessions. Beyond votes, the rise of hyper-partisanship on other matters is evident. During the Obama administration, House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz was eager to investigate every scintilla of scandal involving Hillary Clinton. But he has been lukewarm, or outright dismissive, about launching a crusade into all but the most basic of Trump administration transgressions.
In closing, if conservatives want to vote for conservative nominees and liberals opt to do the same for their ideology, by all means, do so.. But everyone else should ignore party and vote foremost on qualifications. In the world in which I live, that is America first.