Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
“I don’t remember us treating their nominees this way,”
This is what an apoplectic Utah GOP Senator Orin Hatch raged at his Democratic Senate colleagues when they had the temerity to boycott confirmation hearings on two Trump appointees. Hatch, of course, had to feign righteous anger, indignation and disgust at what be branded the Democrat’s obstructionism in refusing to show up for a possible vote on the nominations. That’s tantamount to a bank robber railing with indignation at their bank account being plundered by an identity thief.
Hatch knows full well how the obstruction game is played. The moment that former President Obama set his toe in the White House in January, 2009, Hatch’s titular arty leader, Senate Minority and later Majority leader Mitch McConnell, openly and loudly boasted that he would make him a one term president. The GOP’s far more telling aim, though, was to make his presidency a failed presidency. To do that, the GOP wielded the one formidable weapon that it had. That was the power to say no to any and everything that Obama proposed. That especially included his appointees. If the GOP screeched loud and long enough and muddied the stream with much misinformation and disinformation about a top Obama pick it might get the nominee canned.
The near textbook example of that was the GOP’s full-throated assault on the possible nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice was lambasted from pillar to post as too weak, too conciliatory, and too dovish on the issues of military defense and terrorism. Obama withdrew her name. Many of Obama’s picks fared no better, the GOP controlled Senate in 2015 confirmed fewer of Obama’s picks for all positions then it did for any other president in the previous thirty years.
This was child’s play, however, compared to the GOP’s massive just say “no” to Obama’s judicial picks. Here’s some embarrassing numbers. In George W. Bush’s last year in office, 2008, the Democratic Senate majority confirmed 23 federal district court and four appeals court judges. This was pretty much the norm through every year of Bush’s two term tenure. He would nominate judges as vacancies occurred just as all presidents have done and they would be with routinely confirmed. In fact, Reagan, Bush Sr. and even Democrats Jimmy Carter and Clinton had nearly twice the number of their judicial picks confirmed with the Democrats with almost no dissent to any of them approving their confirmation then Obama toward the end of their tenures
Hatch and the GOP radically changed the game with Obama. He got the grand total of one circuit judge confirmed in 2015 and 2016, and a paltry number of district courts judges. The GOP slowed the Obama appointment and judicial train to a virtual halt by using every parliamentary trick at its disposal--filibuster, the threat of filibuster, endless time and scheduling delays, Senate holds, absenteeism, or just simply turning the nominee into the proverbial invisible man, and ignoring him or her. The numbers result: Bush got more than 90 percent of his judges confirmed while Obama checked in with less than 50 percent.
Even this doesn’t tell the entire grim story. The judges that Obama got through had to be virtually as pure as Cesar’s wife. There couldn’t be the slightest speck of perceived liberal judicial activism in their opinions and rulings. They had to be the epitome of judicial décor and legal straight-lacedness. Obama made sure of that. The GOP’s flagrant and outrageous obstructionism to Obama’s nominees had a dire unintended consequence that has come back to bite the Democrat’s in the backside with the GOP in the Senate driver’s seat.
The tactic forced a plainly frustrated then Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to go nuclear with the filibuster tactic. He scrapped its use by a Senate minority on any nomination other than a Supreme Court nomination. If the 60-vote rule were in effect now the Democrats would have enormous leverage in having their say over some of Trump’s more odious nominees to cabinet posts. But the GOP’s obstruction gall may even turn that rule inside out. Trump demands that the GOP leaders go nuclear on the 60-vote confirmation rule for a Supreme Court judge to get his Scalia clone SCOTUS pick, appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch, through. If that happens, the slender wisp of an opposition tool to slow down Trump and the GOP would be blown away in the wind.
The GOP set a hideously unenviable record for obstructionism by not only getting rid of every Obama appointee it could but also blocking any initiative or legislative initiative he put forth at more than twice the rate of any previous Congress. The GOP takes pride in that record and feigns righteous disgust in at the mere thought of the Democrats trying to match it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of In Scalia’s Shadow: The Trump Supreme Court ( Amazon Kindle). He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.