Earl Ofari Hutchinson's take on the politics of the day
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Here are two scenarios on January 20, 2017. That’s the first day on the job for the 45th president of the U.S. Scenario one. President Sanders or Clinton, unlike President Obama on his first day on the job, are faced with a GOP controlled House and a GOP controlled Senate. That’s a GOP Congress that’s been carefully and deliberately crafted as a firewall against a Democratic president. It’s a GOP Congress in which its majority leadership has repeatedly made clear their sole mission is to delay, dither, obstruct, gut, and torpedo initiatives and legislation of a Democratic president from the budget to all level appointments. In short, a Congress that pretty much did just that during nearly minute of Obama’s White House tenure.
Scenario two. President Trump, Cruz or Rubio on their first day in office faces a Democratic-controlled Senate. Now the script is gently flipped. There is not the hell bent mission to gut or torpedo their initiatives and legislation. However, if they carry through on their oft-stated collective campaign pledges to build a border wall, plow more ground troops in multiple countries, repeal Obamacare, gut or eliminate the IRS, the EPA, the Dept. of Education, and a litany of other federal agencies, not to mention try to dump anywhere from two to four more strict constructionist Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas type judges on the SCOTUS and throughout the federal judiciary then the battle-lines will quickly harden. Senate Democrats will be the firewall to their wholesale effort to roll back the 20th Century.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell is determined to do everything to prevent scenario number one from happening. He is absolutely horrified at the thought of scenario number two happening. So much so that he convened private meetings with GOP party leaders meeting in which he bluntly said that the GOP must do any and everything to insure a congressional firewall against a Democratic president. He meant the Senate. He took the virtually unheard of step of telling GOP Senate candidates and incumbents whose seats are on the block to feel free to distance themselves from a Trump presidential bid anyway they can if that’s what it takes to win election or reelection.
McConnell can count the numbers and the numbers are that the GOP must defend 24 seats while the Democrats get the much better of it with 10 seats to defend. A swing of just four seats to the Democratic column will get the Senate back and give Clinton or Sanders some breathing space in trying to at least get a hearing on their legislative agenda and prospective appointments.
It’s those appointments starting right at the top with the SCOTUS that has the GOP in a nervous sweat about Senate control. It, not the House, is the sole determiner of who sits on the high court, the lower court benches, and bags key spots in federal agencies. These are all top-grade posts that initiate, make, and implement crucial policy decisions after many congresspersons are long gone. The Senate Majority Leader has virtually dictatorial control over which of the president’s nominees are put to a confirmation vote.
The devastating result of that power was on full brute and naked display with the dozens of judicial and agency posts that were endlessly delayed, or outright sabotaged by the GOP controlled Senate from Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the absolute refusal of McConnell to consider any SCOTUS nominee who Obama will propose to replace Scalia. The stonewall of the nominees was so bad that at one point there were more than 150 nominations for executive and court spots that were pending in the Senate.
That was only part of the ugly story. The GOP used their iron grip lock on the nomination process to saber rattle Obama about his choice of judges and agency picks. In effect telling him that if they didn’t like one of his picks they deem too liberal, a minority or woman, or too much of a social activist then dump them and go get someone else who they deem conservative, and conciliatory in how they’d run the agency or rule on court cases.
McConnell and GOP Senate leaders are also well aware that this little shell game can be played by two. When Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) became majority leader in January of 2007 he played hard ball with a number of then President George W. Bush's judicial nominees and delayed hearings. A Democratic Senate Majority Leader would almost be duty-bound to take a long hard look if not put the brakes completely on the SCOTUS picks of President Trump, Cruz, or Rubio. All almost certainly will do what Bush said and did and what Romney echoed in 2012. Bush said his prototype of an ideal Supreme Court Judge was Thomas or Scalia. Romney with much fanfare said he would consult with hardline ultra-conservative Robert Bork on Supreme Court picks. The parade of names they’d send up for confirmation almost certainly wouldn’t look much different than Thomas or Samuel Alito. This would ripple up and down the federal judiciary. The message being that strict constructionist’s ala Thomas will face tough sledding in getting confirmed.
President Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Sanders or Clinton, it makes little difference in one respect. The Senate is the real name of the game this election.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. 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