Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Democrats have various options to block Trump's Supreme Court pick, none of them good

The unseemly haste with which the US Republicans are pursuing their latest Supreme Court nomination strikes most people as morally repugnant. But even the staunchest Democrat has to admit that it is legally permissible. 

As Trump and this particular bumch of feckless Republicans see their time in power trickling away, this may well be their most lasting, and most damaging, legacy, even if it is something arising from sheer serendipity, and not from their own hard work or the will of the people.

But is there anything the Democrats can do to prevent it at this points? Senate Commiittee hearings are ongoing but, eloquently has Kamala Harris makes her points, and outrageous as many of them clearly are, they are not arguments that are likely to weigh that much with the Republican-dominated Senate, which is under what would be called in British parliamentary circles a "three'-line whip" to vote along party lines on this one.

Just before the nomination was announced, Democratic House Speaker Namcy Pelosi is quoted as saying, "I have arrows in my quiver, in the House quiver, and one of the arrows is to not to say what the arrows are", but this sounds more like bluster than anything of substance. 

It was the Democrats themselves, back in 2013, that did away with the fillibuster as a means of blocking executive branch nominations and federal judicial nominations (and quite rightly too - it is an odious political tool, which has no place in a modern democracy). 

Can the Democrats rely on the ethical probity of a few brave Republicans to defy their Glorious Leader. Probably not. Even if mavericks (and long-time thorns in Trump's side) like Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska vote with their consciences, as they did during the nomination vote, the 53-47 Republican majority in the Senate means that at least four Republican Senators would have to step up and defy their own party, which seems improbable. Even in the event of a tied vote (say, if Collins and Mukowski vote against, which is far from certain), Mike Pence, as Vice President, would have the tie-breaking vote, and there is no doubt where his sympathies and loyalties (and his sense of ethics) lie.

Even if Trump is voted out on November 3rd, and the make-up of the Senate is changed dramatically, the current President and Senate will remain in power until January 3rd, which seems like more than enough time to ram through the nomination. There is a by-election already underway to fill the seat of the late Republican Senator John McCain, the winner of which is to be sworn in by November 30th. But even that would probably be too late, and even if the Democrats were to win that seat (if!), they would still need another two Republicans to join them.

One desperate procedural measure might be for the Democrats to deny the Senate a quorum by ensuring that fewer than two opposition Senators turn up for the vote, but this is murky stuff, and can be circumvented by a quick rule change by a simple majority of Republicans.

Equally desperate would be to bring forward another impeachment motion (of Trump, and/or Attorney-General Bill Barr), which would effectively tie up Senate time because impeachment proceedings, once announced, must take priority. This has not been ruled out by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but it is sneaky and risks alienating voters the Democrats can ill-afford to lose.

Likewise with the idea of denying "unanimous consent", a little-known rule under which the Senate operates its daily business, the denial of which would slow Senate business of all kinds almost to a halt. But again, we are looking at tinkering with the very core workings of the Senate, and the Democrats are unlikely to pursue that route.

So, yes, various options are available, but none of them look like very practical options. So, we must rely on the higher principles of individual Republican. Which means: we're stuffed.

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