From the Left



Will McConnell Ruth-lessly steal her seat?

Jamie Stiehm on

WASHINGTON -- The Senate is a hard place to keep a secret, especially when a Supreme Court seat is at stake six weeks before a hotly contested presidential election. Reporters swoop on senators, the talkative types. Like ancient Rome, everyone exchanges news from the Forum. But, reader, it feels like daggers drawn. Tempers are short and getting shorter like the days.

And one more crisis is upon us.

In the embattled Capitol, a sudden death opens up old wounds and will inflict new ones as the fall unfolds. Senate Democrats are painfully reminded of the 2016 "steal" -- a Supreme Court seat that belonged to their side. Barack Obama kindly shared some philosophy the other day. But he let a brazen "steal" happen from his presidential pitching mound.

Across First Street is the blinding bright Supreme Court, where masses of Washingtonians are showing up spontaneously to share a good cry at Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death by the famous steps. The celebrated RBG will lie in repose there and then come over to the Capitol to be honored Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced. Ginsburg and Pelosi, the highest women ever in their branches of government, were braided together: the New Yorker and the Californian.

The gist: A vote on President Donald Trump's pick will likely happen in the two months between Nov. 3 (the election) and Jan. 3 (when a new Congress comes in) -- if not sooner. A second steal is in the works.

So much for Ginsburg's fervent dying wish, for her successor to be named by a new president.

I listened to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praise Ginsburg in an empty Senate chamber. He said she climbed mountains and blazed trails. Right. He laid out a winding argument on why he was not a ruthless (ruth-less) opportunist for jamming a new pick by Trump down the republic's throat now, after he blocked Obama's 2016 nominee for nearly an entire election year. Whatever.

But let me tell you, he played Obama in a masterful way. When archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, McConnell straight-up refused to consider moderate Judge Merrick Garland as his replacement. Because the election was in November. Obama's mild-mannered pleas for a hearing and a vote fell down the hill.

Don't underestimate the Kentucky drawl; he's cold-blooded, clever and crafty. He started throwing down his gauntlet before the body in the parlor was cold at sundown on the Jewish new year.


McConnell is the last classic Southern bull. As the only one in the press gallery, I watched him like a timepiece. He wields power over senators from more populous states, such as New York and California. He wields raw power over presidents as well -- telling Trump to back off on impeachment trial strategy. Trump's a rank amateur next to McConnell, but he has a lot of luck: three court picks in four years? Obama had two in eight years.

But here's the thing: When you're president, you don't let the majority leader act as the master of the Senate. You are master of the Senate and don't tolerate open disdain and disrespect. You threaten Kentucky in some way and do "bidness." You channel Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton, who won close votes with their Southern politician skills. But Obama was too cool to duel with McConnell forcefully as president.

The philosopher president never endeared himself to Senate elders as a rookie, always on a book tour. Far from the fray, he lost close Senate votes -- failing to have it out, give and take, on the phone or face to face. Politics is an eye-contact sport.

That episode hurt party pride and emboldened McConnell. So? Obama let it go, because "Hillary Clinton's going to win anyway": his White House mantra.

Thanks, that's the tragedy we're living in. We know Scalia and Ginsburg were great friends and operagoers. We just don't know the name of the opera -- or war -- we're facing now.

Even in a small town, at times, there are unknowns. "You're asking questions with no answer," a Connecticut Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal, told reporters.


Jamie Stiehm can be reached at To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit

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