By Lee A. Daniels
George Curry Media Columnist
On Feb. 23, the Republican majority of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee sent Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, a letter vowing to ignore their constitutional duty and not even consider the Supreme Court nominee President Obama will soon announce.
Using the preposterous dodge that a nomination should be left to the next president, these “people’s representatives” pledged to not even accept a courtesy call in their Senate offices from an Obama nominee.
Pundit Paul Waldman caustically described the Republicans’ tawdry political hustle in saying, “Even in this time of deep divisions within their party, Republicans can come together in their shared belief that Barack Obama has no right to act like he’s the president.”
One might think that maneuver was the week’s most significant development of the brewing constitutional crisis brought on by the February 13 death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Wrong. Actually, the week’s most revealing development regarding the nomination standoff was what happened the previous day in the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Or rather, what did and didn’t happen.
What did happen was that – as has been the case since October – the committee did not take up any business at all. The reason: Its Republican chairman, 81-year-old Richard C. Shelby, of Alabama, has been so afraid of damaging his chances of winning Alabama’s March 1 Republican primary by the committee’s approving any presidential actions, he didn’t allow the committee to even meet until last week.
That means the committee hasn’t voted on any of the more than 16 nominees President Obama sent to it to consider for positions on such federal agencies as the Export-Import Bank and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Shelby’s bottling up the committee’s work has also prevented approval of the president’s nominee to direct the Treasury Department’s efforts against those in the U.S. and abroad who seek to fund terrorist groups.
Even though the committee’s Democratic members, who are in the minority, sent a letter charging that “For more than a year, the committee has failed to carry out one of its basic duties, Shelby, who’s been in the Senate since 1987, proclaimed to a New York Times reporter last week, “My primary is Tuesday! We can talk about this later.”
Shelby’s dereliction of duty exemplifies the “political correctness run amok” congressional Republicans have adopted as their standard operating procedure since Obama took office. I suppose it’s too much to expect: but when conservative voters and pundits gripe about “gridlock” and “partisanship” in “Washington,” they ought to point to the people they vote for.
In fact, the actions of Richard Shelby and of his confederates on the Senate Judiciary Committee expose an old tactic of its all-out war against President Obama.
That war literally began as soon as the president took office in January 2009. As journalist Robert Draper recounted in his 2012 book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, 15 leading Republican Senators, Representatives, and conservative pundits and operatives met in Washington the very night of Obama’s inauguration to plot how to ruin his presidency. And within days, as journalist Jane Mayer has described in her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right, a larger, highly secretive group of some of the nation’s conservative billionaires and multi-millionaires, led by the brothers Charles and David Koch, gathered in California to discuss how to achieve the same goal.
Both those groups, operating sometimes separately and sometimes in tandem, were motivated by the same credo: If we can’t run it, we’ll wreck it.
And the “it,” we should clearly understand, wasn’t and isn’t just the Obama presidency. It was and is American democracy itself. The Republican-generated Supreme Court nomination crisis is the latest evidence of the right’s attempt to resist the expansion of democracy by undermining not just the rights of individuals, but the very processes and procedures of democratic government, too.
Having been out-maneuvered by Obama on such controversial issues as Obamacare and the Iran nuclear deal, and having seen him “shellack” their presidential ticket in 2012 – they know they’re no match for him in a fair fight. So, in hopes the next president will be a Republican, they’ve resorted to blocking his nominees for critical administrative posts and judicial vacancies altogether.
President Obama, for his part, again made clear he’s preparing to send as nominee to the Senate in order to bring the court back to its full strength – someone with “a sterling record. A deep respect for the judiciary’s role. An understanding of the way the world really works.”
We’ll soon see if there are any Republicans left in the United States Senate who have the same commitment to fulfilling their constitutional duty.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at amazon.com.