Now that it’s clear that Mitch McConnell can deliver a floor vote for the next Supreme Court nominee, what’s the next step? First, Donald Trump will announce his pick on Saturday, as he announced on Twitter this morning:
Just in time for the Sunday shows, although those are usually booked solid by Saturday. After that comes the Senate Judiciary Committee review of the nominee — and of course the Gladiatorial Combat Arena better known as a confirmation hearing in the Senate. With the bitterness of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings still lingering in the air, it seems not just likely but entirely certain that Democrats and progressives will use that platform to launch personal attacks against the nominee in an effort to derail the confirmation.
That game has already begun, albeit very badly, at Newsweek. They targeted top prospect Amy Coney Barrett for a hit piece, only to have it blow up in their faces:
How Amy Coney Barrett's People of Praise group inspired 'The Handmaid's Tale' https://t.co/OxxMXJaq8t
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 21, 2020
Note the headline in the tweet from yesterday. It has since changed to a more ambiguous version: “How Charismatic Catholic Groups Like Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise Inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.” Why? As it turns out, Barrett and People of Praise had nothing to do with the inspiration for the book:
Correction: This article’s headline originally stated that People of Praise inspired ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The book’s author, Margaret Atwood, has never specifically mentioned the group as being the inspiration for her work. A New Yorker profile of the author from 2017 mentions a newspaper clipping as part of her research for the book of a different charismatic Catholic group, People of Hope. Newsweek regrets the error.
They “regret the error,” but haven’t retracted the story. Nor will they in the current media climate, where narrative matters more than fact. Barrett may or may not be the nominee, but whoever gets the pick had better get ready for massive character-assassination campaigns for the next several weeks, culminating in the high-profile shredding session that will take place in the televised confirmation hearings.
That’s why Rush Limbaugh offered McConnell some advice yesterday, which Trump himself retweeted this morning:
Rush Limbaugh calls for Trump's Supreme Court nomination to skip the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and go straight to a floor vote pic.twitter.com/4jc33X3D0W
— Media Matters (@mmfa) September 21, 2020
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh urged Senate Republicans to skip the confirmation hearing process for President Trump’s soon-to-be announced Supreme Court nominee and head straight to a floor vote.
“I want the Judiciary Committee — that could be great if it were skipped,” Limbaugh said Monday on his daily radio program. “We don’t need to open that up for whatever length of time, so that whoever this nominee is can be Kavanaugh’d, or Borked, or Thomas’d. Because that’s what it’s going to be, especially when it’s not even required.” …
Limbaugh was referring to Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas, who were confirmed in controversial hearings, and fellow conservative Robert Bork, who was not confirmed to the court.
Limbaugh also added in another segment that the Senate does not have an obligation to hold a hearing:
Quote, “A president for as long as he or she is president has the power to nominate a person to fill a Supreme Court seat. And that nominee” — I’m quoting McCarthy here, not the Constitution — “that nominee can fill the seat only with the advice and the consent of the Senate.” And that’s it. Everything else is political posturing. Everything else is politics. There’s only two rules. President gets to nominate, Senate gets to advise and consent. And that can be something as simple as a vote.
You do not have to have the Judiciary Committee conduct hearings. That’s only a tradition that evolved, and it’s something that’s taken place, but it is not required. It’s not mandated. It really isn’t, folks. The Senate does not get to pick their own nominee, which is what Chuck Schumer and the rest of the Democrats want you to think. They want you to think the president doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing, he doesn’t get a choice in the matter, only the Democrats get to choose, and they don’t. All the rest of this is nothing more than political posturing.
The Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings are nothing but political posturing, even when without the character assassination. No member of the panel goes into those hearings any more on appellate confirmations without their votes already decided. Their questions aren’t designed to elicit any useful information in regard to political philosophy, and since the Robert Bork hearings, nominees have been smart enough to avoid saying much about that anyway. They are combat arenas, with nominees sometimes ending up caught in the crossfire between the partisans but more recently being the primary targets. The Kavanaugh hearings were an utter disgrace in that regard.
In this instance, the first impulse would be to keep the process as normal as possible, however. That would give political cover to the more vulnerable (or less committed) members of the Senate Republican caucus, especially those who are throwing in now on the basis of normalcy. On the other hand, one has to wonder just how many Senate Republicans on the committee really want to provide Democrats with another opportunity for nationally televised character assassination. McConnell might do some of those a favor by getting Lindsey Graham to push for an immediate vote without a hearing.
At the very least, it would be one less circus in a year with more clowns than usual. But one does also have to wonder whether it might benefit Republicans to allow Democrats to get shown on television going full nutter just days before an election. That might be valuable in itself.