Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Test of Spine in the Senate

The Democratic party has one last chance to reassert itself as a meaningful force in the government of these United States.

That chance resides in the Senate, where Democrats should use what has been the Republicans’ favorite tool — the filibuster — to prevent a vote on the Bannon-Trump regime’s nominee for the vacancy on the United States Supreme Court.

There are two reasons they should do this.

One is that the nominee,  Neil Gorusch, stands even to the right of the man he idolizes and would replace, Antonin Scalia, the worst ideologue ever to sit on the highest bench in the land. The framers of the Constitution clearly intended that the Supreme Court should be a place for impartial legal judgement, not political ideology.

The other is that for nearly a year, Republicans used every trick in the book to prevent President Obama from exercising his constitutional right to name Scalia’s successor.  Now the Senate Democrats owe it to their own constituents and to the entire people of the United States to do the same to this tainted nominee.

The Republicans have a majority in the Senate, but they don’t have 60 votes, the requirement to end a filibuster.  Some Democrats would have to defect in order to end a filibuster.  Some have already betrayed their constituencies by defecting to vote approval of unqualified nominees to the Bannon-Trump cabinet.  If they do so again on the Supreme Court nominee, they will have sounded the death knell for their own party.

Senate Republicans could attempt to defeat a judicial filibuster by changing the Senate rules, but that would require 67 votes, and both parties have been reluctant to take this step in previous Senate showdowns over controversial presidential nominations. It’s doubtful this Senate could summon 67 votes for a resolution of confidence that the sun will rise tomorrow.

There is also something called the “nuclear option,” an invention of the discredited “Tricky Dick” Nixon when he was Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president and hence the president of the Senate.  His formulation devolved from yet another bitter contest over judicial nominations. The maneuver has a rather complicated history.

In effect what happens is that the president of the senate declares an issue to be a constitutional question, which throws the issue to the full Senate for a vote decided by simple majority (51) rather than a super majority (60). In  2013, Senate Democrats used the nuclear option to block filibusters of  federal judicial appointments other than those to the Supreme Court.  For the Republicans now to reverse field and apply the nuclear option to the Gorusch nomination to the Supreme Court could add fuel to what is already looming as a historic constitutional crisis because of the despotic manner in which the Bannon-Trump regime has been operating since the day it took office.

The Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, has yet to demonstrate that he has the spine to put and keep his entire team in line to use the filibuster effectively.  The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has demonstrated neither the intellectual capacity to grasp the historical significance of a nuclear option showdown, nor the tactical skill to prevent catastrophe and chaos in the national government.

But we’re stuck with what we elected, and the ball is in the Senate Democrats’ court.  Will they run with it or fumble it?

Global Dismay and Anger

The ugly American doesn’t care a whit what the world thinks of us.  George W. Bush was a laughing stock in the rest of the world when he won a second term as president.  “How could 50 million people be so stupid?” a British tabloid asked.  The Muslim travel flap has kindled comparable hostility toward the new U.S. regime.

“In one week,” a Canadian friend said in an e-mail, “Trump has managed to piss off most of the world.    The Brits have a 1.6-million name petition to keep Trump from visiting the UK .The Chinese news service is having a field day.  The USA is shedding friends like a raincoat sheds water.   Uncle Sam looks like an idiot to a world that has always been a bit wary, in any case.”  Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shamed the president without naming him by declaring that Canada warmly welcomed all the Arab people who had been turned away by the Yanks.

In Austria, an expert in international finance and currency rates told me, there seems to be an educational gap between the two sides of the American immigration flap.  “The more educated people ‎in Austria shake their heads in disbelief," he said. " No one of this group thought that Mr. Trump could win the election.” The less well-educated people of Austria, he said, “don’t really focus on American politics, and if they do, given the strength of the right wing party in Austria, there would be support for Mr. Trump’s latest political decisions against common sense.”

The University of Iowa’s star basketball player, Peter Jok, who was born in Sudan, one of the countries named in the anti-Muslim ban, wrote a low-key, articulate online  tweet lamenting the pain it inflicted on innocent familes, and prayed that it would be lifted soon.

In a letter to 27 national leaders, European Union President Donald Trusk said the new U.S. regime is seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,”  The change, he said, “puts the EU in a difficult situation.”  With an EU summit looming in Malta in a few days, Tusk warned that “"We cannot surrender to those who want to weaken or invalidate the Transatlantic bond, without which global order and peace cannot survive.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, having weathered a hand-holding charm offensive on her recent visit to Washington, was at first reluctant to criticize the Bannon/Trump Muslim ban, but yesterday she told parliament, “this government is clear that that policy is wrong. We wouldn't do it ... We believe it is divisive and wrong.”

U.N. human rights experts say the ban violates U.S. obligations on human rights. Their statement,  issued in Geneva on Wednesday, called the ban "clearly discriminatory" because it stigmatizes Muslims.They said  the United States has a special obligation “to offer refuge" to people fleeing Iraq and Syria, citing U.S. participation in brutal wars in those countries.

Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani described the Bannon/Trump regime as newcomers who don't understand politics, saying, "A man had been living in another world and now he has entered the world of politics."

Newspapers around the world took angry note of the outcry against the new American regime. "Trump sows trouble with his Western allies," was the lead headline in Les Echo in France.  LeMonde said the ban was not “worthy” of the U.S., and would help the terrorist rhetoric against America and the Western world.  In Spain, La Razon led Monday's cover with "World outcry against Trump's Muslim veto" and El Pais had pictures of protests on its front page from the state of Massachusetts. LaRepubblica of Rome ran the headline, “Trump Alone Against Us All.” In the UK, the Daily Mirror reported, “You Are Not Welcome Here, Mr. President,” and the Observer wrote that, “On issues that matter to Britain, Trump cannot be trusted.  Trump is ignorant, prejudiced and vicious in ways that no American leader has ever been.” In Germany, the newspaper Handelsblatt called the ban “Trump’s religion war”, the tabloid Bid reported on “the horror of Trump” and Der Spiegel said the ban opens the door for countless lawsuits against the new regime.

Official Washington seems deaf to the worldwide noise.  After all, the book ghost-written for  Trump was titled, “The Art of the Deal,” not “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  The world has discovered that for Donnie, the art is to deal from the bottom of the deck.