What a difference two years makes. In 2016, the Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was all about letting the voice of the American people be heard, before the Senate would dream of making so important a decision as nominating a judge to the US Supreme Court.
When Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died in May 2016, six months before the election, McConnell made it clear that allowing Obama to nominate a successor, as was his constitutional right as president, was a total non-starter. His party refused even to give the eminently qualified judge Obama nominated, Merrick Garland, a hearing; the seat was eventually filled by Donald Trump, whose nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate last year.
In 2016, McConnell boasted to a crowd in his home state: “One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy’.”
In the Senate chamber on Monday appeared a completely different McConnell. Now, it was the Democrats who were the ones being obstructionist. “They’re committed to delaying, obstructing, and resisting this nomination with everything they’ve got,” he said. “They just want to delay this matter past the election.” Word for word, it was an exact description of McConnell’s own behaviour with regard to all of Obama’s judicial nominees, including his last Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland.
The FBI is currently investigating allegations of sexual assault against Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, at the request of the White House, an investigation which came after Republican senator Jeff Flake, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, made it a condition of his vote to move Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Senate floor.
But while it seemed as though Flake might have been experiencing a moment of genuine conscience, McConnell clearly doesn’t care about the allegation, despite the riveting and compelling testimony last Thursday of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who claims Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party in 1982. Nor does he care that several others have come forward with similar allegations against Kavanaugh (who denies all allegations).
No: McConnell, who just two years ago was so concerned that the American people’s voice must be heard before the Senate did something as important as appointing a judge to the country’s highest court, has now taken the polar opposite position. “Let me make it very clear,” he said. “The time for endless delay and obstruction has come to a close. Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is out of committee. We’re considering it here on the floor. And, Mr President, we’ll be voting this week.”
Kavanaugh denies the allegations against him, but as many have pointed out, the nomination process isn’t a trial; it’s a job interview. Arguments about the presumption of innocence are spurious, because if that was all it was about, it would be the easiest thing in the world to allow the FBI to conduct a full investigation into the allegations to clear Kavanaugh’s name. There is only one reason McConnell wants to rush through the process of Kavanaugh’s nomination, and that is that he thinks there’s a chance the Republicans could lose their majority in the Senate in November’s midterm elections.
Of course, the rank hypocrisy demonstrated by McConnell is painfully obvious to anyone who has been watching American politics over the last few years. But it still bears pointing out that this is part of a grand scheme by McConnell to pack the American judiciary with right-wing judges, and it is working.
It’s not just the Supreme Court on which McConnell’s supremely cynical approach has left a mark. Last Wednesday, in a bizarre and rambling press conference, Trump swiped at Obama for not filling judicial vacancies without realising that the reason he inherited so many vacant judgeships is that McConnell had followed through on his pledge to block them all. As the Huffington Post pointed out, it appears that Trump simply doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, about McConnell’s conservative hijacking of the American judiciary. Whether or not Trump is in on the con barely matters anyway.
Under pressure from reporters at a press conference on Monday, the White House said that they would expand the scope of the FBI investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh. But it is somewhat unclear what the exact parameters of the investigation are, and also to whom they will be reported. Trump said at the press conference that the Senate Republicans were taking the lead, but left everybody guessing as to what exactly that meant, and the investigation is limited to only a week.
In the meantime, it is clear that McConnell intends to press on with the nomination process regardless of the investigation. That means that one fact is now entirely obvious for all to see: McConnell doesn’t care about finding the best possible judge, he just cares about packing the federal court system with conservative ideologues.
The hypocrisy of it all isn’t really surprising; it’s what we have come to expect from the modern Republican Party. But the scale and chutzpah of the plot is breathtaking.