Election-month theatre at its finest.
Senators from both political parties talked and talked – other than raise piles and piles of campaign cash, it’s what they do best – but managed as they spent a day questioning her to pry little new out of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Republicans did not really try to do so on her first full day taking questions. Democrats did, but were stymied repeatedly. Members on both sides of the dais spent plenty of time during their allotted 30 minutes making points intended to help themselves in their re-election fights and the two men at the top of each party’s ticket.
For her part, Ms Barrett did say that despite her family owning a gun she would not bring her personal views into any Second Amendment-related case. But on issues ranging from voting rights to abortion to congressional district gerrymandering to what Donald Trump has tweeted, she sometimes-politely – and sometimes pointedly – told senators it would be inappropriate for her to give a detailed answer.
The practice of a high court nominee avoiding tough cases about specific hot-button topics or controversial cases on which they might have to rule as a justice is time-honoured. So, too, is the use of televised confirmation hearings to make political hay.
Chairman Lindsey Graham kicked things off with what amounted to a campaign ad for his closer-than-expected bid for a fifth six-year term. He checked a few boxes that seem important in a conservative state like South Carolina, where he will need a big turnout from those on the right.
He bashed the 2011 Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare. Check.
He praised Mr Trump, who remains wildly popular in the Palmetto State. Check.
He said Ms Barrett’s nomination, to him, is important for young conservative females, showing them they can have “a seat at the table.” Check.
The chairman also found a way to appeal to any remaining undecided and moderate voters in his home state when he took a big turn toward the political centre and toward his late best friend and longtime campaign-finance reform leader, Senator John McCain.
Mr Graham, whose Democratic challenger, Jamie Harrison, has vastly outraised him, complained there is “a lot of money” flying around in congressional races, adding with clear exasperation: “I don’t know what’s going on out there."
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota took a more lawyerly approach, engaging the nominee in a deep-in-the-weeds exchange about cases Ms Barrett considers settled law. When she pressed about the landmark abortion rights case, making the procedure legal coast-to-coast, Ms Barrett did make some news.
“Roe is not a super precedent because calls for its over-ruling have never ceased,” Ms Barrett told the senator during a debate chock full of legal jargon and focused on several hot-button election-year issues.
C'est la vie
Like during the controversial confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ms Klobuchar had a strong and reasoned performance. She asked about whether the court should weigh in on election-related matters.
“Senator Klobuchar, I think that is a question for the political branches,” the nominee said.
“Alright,” the senator replied, resting her tongue on the roof of her open mouth and pausing. “You’re right to answer like that.”
Other senators, like Republican Ted Cruz, used their time to make statements about the other political party and the media. Those extended diatribes did nothing to shed light on how a Justice Barrett would act on the high court.
But Mr Cruz did drill down on other, less-pressing topics.
“Judge Barrett, I’m not going to ask you to respond to any questions,” the Texas senator said in a brow-raising moment.
The purpose of the four-day hearing is to, mostly, ask her questions. But a senator’s time is a senator’s time and he or she will not be silenced, in the long tradition of the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”
A half hour of allotted time is a precious thing for a United States senator, so Mr Cruz quickly reversed himself and asked a few questions.
“Do you speak any foreign languages?” he asked, lobbing the ultimate softball toward the conservative nominee he and others are counting on to, chiefly, help them terminate the Affordable Care Act.
She seemed slightly embarrassed as she told the world she once spoke some French, but is now out of practice.
C'est la vie.
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