It’s pretty simple. After years of griping about Barack Obama’s abuse of executive power, the GOP finally has a chance to do something about it.
So Mitch McConnell makes a deal: If Democrats agree to stop blocking a human trafficking bill over some boilerplate language regarding abortion funding—a position that made them look unreasonable—Republicans, with all the leverage imaginable, will help confirm another attorney general nominee who will rubber stamp the president’s many overreaches.
‘People are very nervous about Republicans not being willing to have a vote on the first black woman attorney general,’ according to one GOP senator who spoke on condition of anonymity. Republicans agree that Lynch is qualified for the job — ‘probably the most qualified nominee that’s come out of this White House,’ concedes Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.), who voted against her confirmation.
Those are two awful reasons.
Do senators have a duty to defer to the president’s choices simply because the nominee has an impressive resume? Or do they take oaths to uphold the Constitution? There’s little doubt that Lynch has the professional credentials necessary for the job, but a nominee for Justice Department’s top position disqualifies herself when she can’t, for ideological reasons (or won’t, for partisan ones) concede that there is a single genuine limitation on presidential power. The role of Congress is to check the executive branch, not expand its reach.
Before the showdown over the human trafficking bill, it was McConnell, along with many others, who protested Obama’s unilateral immigration policy directives on legal grounds. Yet, Lynch told senators she believed the president had acted well within his powers. So how does McConnell rationalize not only allowing a vote to come to the floor but whipping the 60 votes needed to avoid any confrontation with the majority of his own party?
“I voted against her because even though I walked into her confirmation process with an open mind, hoping and even expecting to like her, I couldn’t vote for her because she refused to answer any of my questions about prosecutorial discretion and its limits,” Sen. Mike Lee, whose grilling gave Lynch the most trouble, told The Federalist. “Even as I made the questions more and more obvious, and gave her hypotheticals which I thought made the question clearer, she refused to answer. It’s not because she doesn’t have the capacity, it’s because she had concluded that she wanted to share as little information as possible and, apparently, she responded well to coaching. I found that troubling.”
Lee had offered a hypothetical scenario wherein a governor wanted to raise the speed limit from 55 miles per-hour to 75 but could not convince the legislature. Could that governor decide to unilaterally instruct his highway patrol to not enforce the speed limit? Could he issue permits to drivers who wanted to exceed the limits established by statute? “I thought that was a pretty reasonable hypothetical,” Lee explained. She refused discuss the scenario.
Lee then asked about a hypothetical president who decides that tax rates are too high and no American should ever have to pay anything above 25 percent. Congress disagrees. So, can that president now instruct his administration not to collect any taxes above the 25 percent? Is that a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion? “She wouldn’t really answer that one either,” said Lee, whose new book is fittingly titled, Our Lost Constitution: The Willful Subversion of America’s Founding Document.
Then, of course, as with most debates these days, there is the Democrats’ habit of conjuring phantom racism whenever things aren’t going their way.
Yesterday, POLITICO ran a lengthy feature detailing some of Lynch’s history, treating every criticism of her as a racial slight. And for every story that implied there was a scandalous reason for stopping Lynch, a Democrat openly alleged that Republicans were delaying the vote because of bigotry. “Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar,” Dick Durbin said.
It’s a potent attack, obviously, as Republicans recoil whenever it’s deployed. A number of susceptible 2016 Republicans—Kelly Ayotte, Ron Johnson, Rob Portman, among others—voted to confirm Lynch. If the GOP believes that a single voter has changed their perceptions about politics over the Loretta Lynch confirmation, they’ve been in DC way too long. What’s far more likely is that the incident reinforces the idea that accusing your opponents of racism works. Well, for Democrats.
At the very least, Republicans had an opportunity to make a compelling case against the president’s unilateral governance by voting no. It would not have changed the outcome. Instead, GOP leadership is complicit. McConnell will continue to boast about the Senate being productive again. And, to be fair, things have been running a lot smoother since the GOP took over. No more obstruction. Just a lot of capitulation.