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Bill Straub: A pox on the Republic, rest in peace RBG, but word and honor don’t count in this game

Okay, let’s agree that President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom,  has every right to provide a nomination for a vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat despite a national election looming around the corner. And there’s certainly nothing in the Constitution or statute law to prohibit Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell and his GOP co-conspirators from using rank political power to carry this late stage submission home.


Let’s also agree then that McConnell’s word isn’t worth dog vomit, that the Louisville lawmaker has neither integrity, a conscience nor a soul and that he is in the process of ruining not one, not two, but three branches of government in an unmitigated power grab that will cast a pall over this once great nation for years to come.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Mitch, in other words, is guiding America’s decline like Slim Pickens atop the atomic bomb in Dr. Strangelove, riding it like a rodeo cowboy, hooting and hollering all the way down.

Then let’s agree that the Republican majority in the Senate is stacked with cowards unwilling to stand up to their misbegotten leader and the right-wing yahoos that fund the campaigns that help them retain the status to which they have become accustomed. There’s lying in politics, no question about that, sometimes it can almost be justified. But the sins these folks keep honking out to justify the indefensible reneging on their commitments is simply breathtaking in scope and a pox on the republic.


Back in early 2016, with an election nine months away, Justice Antonin Scalia, a stalwart conservative, died. McConnell, with the body still warm, jumped forward to declare that the Senate Republican majority would refuse to even consider any nomination put forward by then-president Barack Obama, a Democrat.

And he stuck to his guns. Obama nominated U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Scalia seat, an unquestionably qualified individual, and the Senate refused to schedule so much as a hearing. In justifying his decision, ol’ Root-‘n-Branch said this:

“Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.” 

The rest is history. Scalia was eventually replaced by Justice Neil Gorsuch, nominated by a new president, fellow named Trump (God help us all), 14 months after Scalia’s demise, thus preserving the court’s right-wing majority.

Now jump ahead to Sept. 18, 2020, just 46 days before the next presidential election with Trump once again on the ballot. News comes down that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the court’s most celebrated liberal, had died, creating an opening.

McConnell once again quickly jumped into the breach, essentially declaring to hell with that letting the American people weigh in malarkey, we’re going to steal us another seat quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

And it’s all over but the shouting. You can bet that’s the way it’s going to end up. Trump will nominate a replacement this week – probably further to the right than his two previous court nominations – and McConnell will proceed to board it on an express train as if it were engineered by Casey Jones.

Remember, Scalia died nine months before a presidential election. Ginsberg died less than two months before a similarly consequential event, with voting already underway in some areas. For some reason, Obama’s nomination couldn’t possibly be considered given those factors. But let’s push our boy Trump’s person in ASAP before the people really get to decide.

So much for placing trust in the citizenry.

McConnell’s rationale would, if you’ll excuse the expression, make a maggot gag. Senate Republicans, he said, are keeping their promise to those who “reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary.”

No such consideration, of course, was afforded Barack Obama, who was re-elected in 2012. Those voters, almost 66 million of them, didn’t count in McConnell’s scorecard.

Initially it appeared Mitch might encounter problems getting the necessary votes, even though he rearranged Senate rules a few years ago to assure that a Supreme Court nominee couldn’t be filibustered, which would have required 60 votes instead of 50. Several GOP lawmakers, folks like Sen. Charles Grassley, of Iowa, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, vowed that they wouldn’t support a Republican Supreme Court nominee in the year of a presidential election.

Graham is most edifying. Questioned in 2016 about blocking Garland, he said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

Two years later, he added, “I will tell you this: If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election.”

Of course, he went back on his word, folded like a cardboard suitcase. He said he changed his mind because while in the majority, Democrats changed filibuster rules regarding lower federal court judicial nominees. Of course, that occurred in 2013 – three years before his statement committing to no high court confirmations.

Graham later added that he was unhappy because Democrats were mean to Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his hearing. The claim is, of course, nonsense. Graham said “we’ll wait to the next election’’ on Oct. 3, 2018. The Senate Judiciary Committee had already confirmed Kavanaugh on Sept. 27, 2018.

What a moron. They all caved, of course, save for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me, who no doubt is concerned, said any confirmation should come after the Nov. 3 election.

The lesson here is that McConnell is a con man and a chiseler, a cheap one at that, one of those greasy salesmen who practices the art of bait-and-switch, enticing the electorate with “let the people decide’’ and then pulling the rug out from under them when the opportunity presents itself.

The lesson here, one that has only become more obvious over the years, is that McConnell is simply not to be trusted. And now he has almost his entire caucus following in lockstep.

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a political maven (love Norm, always returned your phone calls) recently noted, “I have been in and around the Senate for 50 years. There has been one constant: a senator’s word is his or her bond. The constant is now shredded, as McConnell, Graham, Grassley et al have shown their word means nothing. Why trust any of them?”

It’s also worth noting that, as we learned way back in elementary school, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. McConnell’s actions, coming on the heels of the Garland incident, contributes to the lack of trust now permeating the Senate. His decision to proceed with a Trump nomination destroys any sort of comity, raises questions anew about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy and shines a light on the despicable tactics McConnell regularly employs to steamroll the minority.

In other words, the move violates all concepts of fair play. It ain’t right. That, perhaps, is why Mitch is moving ahead with it.

Put another notch in Mitch’s belt. He has stained the executive branch by refusing the opportunity to stand up to a president who has not only displayed racist and sexist tendencies but allowed him to get away with all sorts of hideous endeavors without a whimper, changing, perhaps, the perception of that office forever. He has impacted the federal judiciary by hook and by crook, bottling up nominations while Democrats were in the majority and refusing to take into consideration the thoughts of home-state lawmakers in considering nominations, dismissing the old Blue Slip rule.

What he has done to the Senate is a well-documented tragedy that seems never-ending. And it appears the voters of Kentucky will send him back to Washington this November for an historic seventh term.

As my old pal, the late Bones Chellgren used to say, some things are inexplicable.

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  1. Willie says:

    Since Bill loves to give out nicknames in this column and others, does anyone have a good nickname for Liberal Bill?

  2. Mary Ellen Hackman says:

    I totally agree with you Bill. What a disgrace, and dishonor to Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I hope and pray that the behaviors in the past four years by elected officials without conscience is remembered in November

  3. Paul Runyon says:

    There is no moral compass in the leadership of two branches of our government now. The compass points to the forces directing our “leaders” which are party loyalty (does this sound familiar to the historians looking back to the Europe of the 1930s & 1940s?), power and greed. Shameful that the elected forget they intended to serve the voters and end up serving themselves. Great piece Bill, don’t stop writing.

  4. Richard says:

    Bill, If you don’t like Mitch, then don’t vote for him. Wait… you dont live here, you live in Maryland, so you have that covered.

    I guess you could always send a postcard to someone that lives in Kentucky, like the one I got from someone (anonymous) in Albany NY, asking me to vote for Amy McGrath. It was addressed to ‘Essential voter’, and signed by ‘Doreen’, a volunteer.

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