Repub­li­can law­mak­ers too far gone to back down now

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION - Catherine Ram­pell Colum­nist

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers must ask them­selves this ques­tion at the end of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, when­ever that is. Per­haps then they will fi­nally in­ven­tory ev­ery mis­deed they ig­nored or en­cour­aged, ev­ery scar they seared into our repub­lic and its in­sti­tu­tions, in pur­suit of their holy grail: an­other Supreme Court seat.

Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have said they op­pose a vote on a Supreme Court nom­i­nee so close to the elec­tion. This prin­ci­ple, of course, was widely en­dorsed by Repub­li­cans four years ago, when the GOP-con­trolled Se­nate re­fused to even hold hear­ings for the nom­i­nee Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had put for­ward in March.

Pun­dits ask whether other sen­a­tors might sud­denly grow a con­science and keep to this prin­ci­ple. But that’s the wrong way to think about how most Repub­li­cans will make this de­ci­sion.

The prospect of an­other Supreme Court ap­point­ment was pre­cisely how Repub­li­can sen­a­tors as­suaged their con­sciences these past four years. Judges (and tax cuts) were not merely the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion but their ul­ti­mate re­ward for ac­cept­ing so much bad be­hav­ior from this ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The lure of pack­ing the bench with con­ser­va­tive jus­tices is pre­sum­ably why Repub­li­can of­fi­cials aban­doned their pu­ta­tive com­mit­ments to lim­ited gov­ern­ment and free mar­kets. It’s why they tossed aside free trade, fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and not weaponiz­ing gov­ern­ment might to re­ward friends and pun­ish per­ceived en­e­mies.

It’s how the “Party of Lin­coln” ex­cused overt big­otry against Mus­lims; against U.S.born con­gress­women of color; against im­mi­grants from cer­tain coun­tries; against eth­nic mi­nori­ties who don’t share Trump sup­port­ers’ “good genes.” It’s how they brushed off his birtherism and retweets of white su­prem­a­cists.

It’s how so-called con­sti­tu­tional con­ser­va­tives ig­nored his at­tacks on the First Amend­ment; the gassing of peace­ful pro­test­ers for a photo op­por­tu­nity; his threats to “re­voke” li­censes of me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions whose coverage he dis­likes.

It’s how a leg­is­la­ture that once ab­horred pres­i­den­tial tyranny has ac­cepted its own con­sti­tu­tional cas­tra­tion. GOP law­mak­ers will­ingly sub­mit­ted when Trump con­fis­cated their pow­ers of the purse; their power to reg­u­late com­merce with for­eign na­tions; their duty to ad­vise and con­sent on ma­jor ap­point­ments to the ex­ec­u­tive branch, now rid­dled with “act­ing” of­fi­cials.

It’s how these stew­ards of tax­payer dol­lars turned a blind eye to the ways Trump and his cronies have di­rected Trea­sury funds into their own pock­ets. It’s how a party that once pri­or­i­tized the ex­port of Amer­i­can demo­cratic val­ues came to ex­cuse ex­tort­ing for­eign lead­ers into do­ing per­sonal favors for Trump. It’s how they ac­cept a pres­i­dent who kow­tows to au­thor­i­tar­i­ans.

Even when it looked like the clock had al­most run out on their tacit trade — Amer­i­can democ­racy, swapped for tax cuts and judges — GOP law­mak­ers kept their eyes on the prize.

Repub­li­can sen­a­tors de­cided not to fix­ate on Trump’s mis­han­dling of our public health and eco­nomic crises nor even to ask what they might do to help. In­stead they have re­mained laser-fo­cused on their pre­cious bench. In the past month, nearly ev­ery Se­nate roll-call vote has re­lated to a ju­di­cial ap­point­ment; not one ad­dressed mount­ing hunger, school clo­sures, fi­nan­cial des­per­a­tion or Amer­i­can deaths.

Now GOP sen­a­tors see the op­por­tu­nity to replace Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg, a cham­pion of women’s rights, with some­one whose views on the sub­ject fall some­where be­tween the 18th and 19th cen­turies.

Today Repub­li­cans tell them­selves, and their con­stituents, that the trade-off has been worth it. Tomorrow, the ac­count­ing may look dif­fer­ent.

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