The Death of Collegiality
Harry Reid drove the first nail into the coffin housing the tired, shattered remains of the Senate’s long cherished collegiality. Chuck Schumer is about to drive the last one in, and then turn things over to Mitch McConnell for the interment.
With Senate Democrats gaining sufficient support from members of their caucus to effectively filibuster the nomination of soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Senate is about to end a century of precedent. Senator McConnell will use the “nuclear option,” effectively modifying Senate rules to allow for a simple majority to confirm nominees to the Supreme Court. This finishes the process begun by Harry Reid in 2013, when he used the same option to modify Senate rules to require only a majority vote for confirming lower level Presidential appointments.
The Senate was one of the last bastions of civility left in modern politics. The collegial, club-like atmosphere that the Senate has cultivated for the last two centuries always made it a place where the hardcore partisan politics found in the House of Representatives was looked down upon. The Senate had higher standards. Senators were expected to be more bi-partisan, to look less at parochial concerns, and more at the good of the country. House members were just politicians. Senators were statesmen. As the old joke went, the House has “affairs” and the Senate has “relations.” At least, that’s how they viewed themselves. Not everybody agreed with that image, not the least of whom were members of “the other body.” That image though, is gone. The days of Senators from across the aisle maintaining friendships and working together has evaporated in an age where Elizabeth Warren-style bitter invective has become not only the norm, but the idealized way to behave. They’re selling t-shirts of it now.
Maybe it was the large number of former House members joining the Senate that did it – over half of the Senate in the last Congress were former House members. Maybe it was the internet and C-Span. Maybe people just don’t know how to get along anymore. Whatever the reason, the Senate’s era of good feelings, which has lasted at least since the last time anybody tried to beat another member to death on the floor, is officially over.
Nobody can argue that Neil Gorsuch isn’t qualified to be a Supreme Court justice. Nobody today is making that argument with a straight face. The purported reason for Democrats not supporting Gorsuch is some convoluted nonsense that Gorsuch is “too extreme.” Some, like our junior Senator from Virginia, have just chosen to make things up. Instead of being called unqualified, we’re treated to a raft of hand-wringing about Gorsuch’s opinion in one case or another, with the media willingly playing the concern troll, branding at least one of his decisions as “heartlessly cruel.”
We all know that’s bunk. Democrats are opposing Gorsuch simply because Republicans didn’t allow President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to have confirmation hearings or a vote in the Senate. Despite Democrats making it clear when the shoe was on the other foot that “the Senate is not a rubber stamp for the executive branch,” as former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid once said, they are being bullied into opposing a qualified nominee for purely partisan reasons.
What are those purely partisan reasons? Well, mainly that this is what rank and file Democrats want. Ask a Democratic friend what they think, and you’re like to hear they want exactly this kind of tit-for-tat behavior from their Senators. Does anybody honestly believe that Mark Warner decided to flip flop on his position from just a month ago because Chuck Schumer asked him to? He’s feeling the heat from Democrats on the home front. As one of my Democratic friends recently said on social media, “[i]t’s about time Warner acted like a Democrat.” This is the fundamental concept behind their “resist” movement – in no way should any Democrat be complicit with anything this administration wants to do. Doesn’t matter how good it is, rank and file Democrats stand ready to punish any of their representatives who dare compromise or negotiate with the President on any of his agenda items.
That includes Supreme Court nominees.
With more Democrats up for election in 2018 than Republicans – 23 (25 if you count Angus King and Bernie Sanders) to 9 – many of these Democrats, especially from the 12 solid blue states, are more concerned about primary challenges from the left than they are about Senate traditions.
That’s how Senate traditions die. Centuries of norms and mores tossed aside quicker than a gambler’s willpower at the craps table, simply out of political expediency. The worst part is that by forcing Republicans to go nuclear on the Gorsuch nomination, they are removing any chance that they will be able to stop a future Supreme Court nominee from moving forward when it will likely matter far more to them than it does now. Gorsuch replacing Scalia is one conservative replacing another. Justices Ginsberg and Breyer are the oldest on the court now, both staunch liberals and both at or over 80 (they’re 84 and 80 respectively). Justice Kennedy, a swing vote, isn’t far behind at age 78. If any of those three leave the court, Democrats may be wishing they hadn’t moved so rashly on Neil Gorsuch.
Let us all commend the body of our dearly departed friend, the Senate’s collegiality, to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the Sea shall give up her dead.
Or, at least until the next election.