Can members of the United States Senate walk and chew gum simultaneously?
According to several Democratic members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Congress is incapable of such.
Among the numerous and silly talking points this week coming from Senate Democrats during the hearing on the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Senate should instead be acting on Covid legislation.
This is thin soup. The Senate and House of Representatives, along with every state legislative body, long ago established a committee structure precisely to handle a multitude of issues simultaneously.
Senators need not be in two places at once, but their colleagues on other committees and their army of staff quite easily can negotiate details of Covid legislation. In fact, there are several Covid bills already drafted from last spring and summer, well prior to Judge Barrett’s nomination, which can be negotiated and passed.
Hypocrisy is not rare among politicians, yet it never ceases to amaze. Every senator who complained about conducting the hearing on Judge Barrett while not passing another Covid relief bill, themselves voted last month to oppose Covid legislation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, for example, said the hearing showed the Republican Senate majority “is not willing to take a vote to provide needed relief” for families, senior citizens and businesses. Except the Senate in September did vote on a $1 trillion Covid bill to provide such relief. Sen. Klobuchar voted against that bill by refusing to allow it to be debated on the Senate floor.
Reading from the same song-sheet, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware exclaimed that the pandemic “is an ongoing national emergency …we in Congress should be working day an night to deliver… that relief. Instead, my colleagues are barreling forward with a confirmation hearing that’s distracting from our responsibility to our constituents.” Sen. Coons also previously voted last month against “that relief”.
Then there was Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who lamented, “we could be, as the Senate, we should be, as the Senate, working in a bipartisan way to…get relief to people who are hurting, who are struggling…[b]ut instead of doing anything to help people who are struggling right now, we are here.” Sen. Booker, like his Democratic colleagues, either is forgetful or impervious to his own recent vote against getting “relief to people who are hurting, who are struggling.”
President Trump’s nomination of Judge Barrett is not keeping the Senate or the House from negotiating and passing Covid legislation. And, it certainly doesn’t stop senators Klobuchar, Coons and Booker from forgoing their respective ten minute opening speeches at the hearing to work in a bipartisan way to pass more Covid relief. In fact, this trio may be glad to learn that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just announced his intention next week to have another vote on a Covid relief bill – even amidst the Judiciary Committee hearing.
What is preventing a bipartisan Covid bill is not a Supreme Court nomination; rather, it is the Democratic leadership, namely, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.
Last summer, Democratic leaders made a highly cynical political calculation that passing any additional Covid legislation may help President Trump’s re-election prospects, so they balked. What else could explain their intransigence?
The Democrats’ position was that unless the President and Republicans agreed to their unprecedented $3 trillion-plus spending blowout entitled the HEROS Act—which is more than 50 percent larger than the unprecedented CARES Act passed in March—then no deal. Subsequently, Speaker Pelosi lowered her number to $2.2 trillion in Covid relief.
Republicans in Congress are not exactly paupers when it comes to spending during the coronavirus pandemic. They agreed to the $2 trillion CARES Act and since proposed more than $1 trillion in additional spending to help unemployed Americans, keep schools operating, and sustain the economy. President Trump last week raised the GOP offer to $1.8 trillion, which is just a few hundred billion below the last offer by Speaker Pelosi.
Still, the Democrats refuse to negotiate seriously. When questioned this week by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer why she would not agree to negotiate the president’s latest offer, Speaker Pelosi got testy and accused him of being a “Republican apologist” merely for raising a legitimate, journalistic query.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans remain unemployed, the restaurant, airlines and other industries are on the verge of collapse, and public and parochial schools need additional support to educate children safely in-person, among many other needs.
The U.S. Senate has the discretion to act or not act on a Supreme Court appointment pursuant to the Constitution’s “advice and consent” clause. Proceeding with the hearing on Judge Barrett’s nomination does not impede passing needed Covid legislation for the American public. Senators who claim otherwise should cease such kindergarten-level talking points.
Peter Murphy is the Founder and Principal of Linden-Grove Strategies LLC and writes on public policy (Twitter @PeterMurphy26).