Martin Schram: Senate GOP meets its match in virtual debate

By Martin Schram, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

A combative and divisive debate - a clash of politically polar opposites - has erupted in the U.S. Senate, an institution whose website proudly proclaims itself "the world's greatest deliberative body."

Actually, it is only a virtual debate so far. Not a real one. But it is indeed a battle of the extremes.

What the Senate's greats are deliberating, in virtual reality, is whether they should rush a vote on confirming President Donald Trump's 2020 nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even though, in less than six weeks, Americans will be voting on whether to reelect or fire Trump. And that the precedent the Senate Republicans set in 2016 was that when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, they wouldn't let President Barack Obama fill the vacancy on the grounds that 37 weeks was too close to the November Election Day.

What makes this debate perhaps history's most bizarre ever is that the only way for you to see the ultimate political reality is to view it virtually. Just check it out on a news screen that hooks you up to both livestream Senate coverage and YouTube old stuff. And that's what we're doing today.

We see Sen. Thom Tillis, the beleaguered conservative Republican from North Carolina, where early 2020 voting has already begun. Tillis, who is struggling to win reelection against Democrat Cal Cunningham, was one of the first Senate Republicans to declare that he was going all-in for anyone Trump nominated. Never mind that Election Day is in just six weeks.

"There is a clear choice on the future of the Supreme Court between the well-qualified and conservative jurist President Trump will nominate and I will support," said Tillis, "and the liberal activist Joe Biden will nominate ...who will legislate radical, left-wing policies from the bench."

But then, on our news screen, we saw an influential senator wearing a light blue shirt, coral tie and brownish sport jacket speaking on the Senate floor. And he made a powerful counterargument to Tillis' rush to back Trump's nominee no matter what.

"The campaign is already underway. It is essential to the institution of the Senate and to the very health of our republic to not launch our nation into a partisan, divisive confirmation battle during the very same time the American people are casting their ballots to elect our next president." The speaker was also Sen. Thom Tillis, in a YouTube video from Feb. 26, 2016, making his strong case for not approving any Obama nominee eight full months before Election Day. "... There should be no hearings. There should be no confirmation. The most pragmatic conclusion to draw is to hold the Supreme Court vacancy until the American people's voices have been heard."

The Senate's virtual debate is underway. Soon we were comparing what Republican senators were saying this week in support of confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee so close to Election Day with their YouTube statements from February 2016. What we had sounded like a virtual debate that was a clash of ideological polar opposites - hard-liners playing hardball. And all were Republicans.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was concise and precise this week: "We will ... conduct thorough and deliberate hearings. We will move forward without delay."


But Cotton-2020 was countered, far more eloquently, by Cotton-2016: "Why would we squelch the voice of the populace? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the makeup of the Supreme Court? ...The stakes are high and we cannot rush this decision. This nomination should not be considered by the Senate at this time."

And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., falling into step behind Trump in 2020, was totally outdebated by Cruz-2016, who said: "For 80 years, it has been the practice that the Senate has not confirmed any nomination made during an election year, and we shouldn't make an exception now."

Senate Republicans have fallen into lockstep behind their president. They are all about allowing Trump to do in September 2020 what they refused to allow Obama to do in February 2016, on the grounds that February was too late.

The Senate Republicans don't care if you are thinking they are hypocrites. They'd rather have you thinking about that than about the fact that they have fearfully permitted Trump to lure your family, friends and neighbors to his rallies where they are still being packed together, unmasked and vulnerable to the killer COVID-19.

And they especially hope you don't know that on Nov. 10, Trump's probably newly packed Supreme Court will be hearing a case about killing the Affordable Care Act - including its coverage of preexisting conditions that is your best and last line of defense. Even as the pandemic's Second Wave endangers us all.



Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

(c)2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



Bart van Leeuwen Walt Handelsman Bill Bramhall Jeff Danziger Kevin Siers Tom Stiglich