Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell’s efforts to jam the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before Tuesday’s election were relentless to the point of seeming desperate – turning the “advise and consent” role of the Senate into a farce, delegitimizing the nominee, and breaking Senate rules in the process – but he had his way on Monday, when the upper chamber of Congress confirmed Barrett’s nomination by fifty-two votes to forty-eight votes.
The elevation of Barrett enlarges the Supreme Court’s right wing bloc and could have the effect of securing minority rule for the Republicans for years to come.
The vote itself demonstrated the extremism that now defines the Republican Party; only one Republican (Susan Collins of Maine, who is facing a tough re-election fight) voted against rubber-stamping Barrett’s absurdly rushed nomination, while every other Republican senator blithely got in line… even Lisa Murkowski.
The vote also showed how undemocratic the U.S. Senate has become. The fifty-two senators who voted “yes” represent 152 million Americans, while the minority of forty-eight represent more than 170 million!
Mitch McConnell seemed to want to draw attention to the disparity in his comments after the confirmation: “The reason we were able to do what we did in 2016, 2018 and 2020 [referring to three Supreme Court nominations] is because we had the majority.” In 2016 and 2018, Democratic Senate candidates won 56% and 60% of the vote respectively, and yet Republicans held on to control!
However, McConnell and his cronies cannot rely on the structurally rigged architecture of the Senate to help them forever – polls suggest that Democrats are on the cusp of reclaiming control for the fist time since 2014, which is part of the reason for their haste to confirm Barrett.
As Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, “they have realized a truth that shakes them down to their core: The American people are not on their side.”
McConnell’s rush may have actually harmed his party’s prospects. Although polling is unclear over whether the rushed confirmation helps or harms the Republicans, the fact is that McConnell chose to focus on packing the Supreme Court, rather than confirming any legislation that would help the victims of COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been particularly devastating in a number of states with close Senate races, and voters are unlikely to reward their Republican incumbents for obsessing over the Supreme Court while slamming the brakes on getting much-needed pandemic relief to constituents.
The Biden team seems aware of the possibilities that McConnell’s ruthless disregard for the American people could bring. Joe Biden’s campaign schedule has seen him visit a number of states (including Texas, Iowa and Georgia) where Democrats have a possibility of winning Senate seats.
His presence will likely boost enthusiasm for these candidates.
The great irony for Mitch McConnell is that his ruthless determination to secure rule by the few through gerrymandering and the courts could ultimately result in all his work being undone. The Republicans’ unhinged radicalism in these last days of Trump has persuaded many Democrats (even many “institutionalists”) that major changes are needed to make the country more small “d” democratic.
Support is growing for projects like expanding the Supreme Court and giving statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia – projects that would likely spell doom for the Republican Party’s control of national politics.