Commentary: The #MeToo movement encroached upon the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate, and was dismissed.
As I watched the Senate hearings Thursday, I thought back to a brief interview a few years ago with former Sen. Pete Domenici, who introduced me to the term “filling the tree.”
It is a tactic where the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid at that time, would fill up all of the possible amendments on a bill, leaving the minority party with no chance to offer their own amendments.
The Senate runs on rules and procedures that are intended to guarantee the rights of the minority party. What happened Thursday reflected the recent erosion of those rules, caused by leaders from both sides.
During the hearing, Republican senators dismissed the gut-wrenching retelling by Christine Blasey Ford of the night more than three decades ago when she was, as a 15-year-old, she was sexually assaulted by a pair of drunken teen-age boys, one of whom is now in line to be our nation’s next Supreme Court justice.
Following the party-line vote to move Brett Kavanuagh’s nomination out of the committee, some commentators suggested that the Senate has not changed in the 35 years since senators dismissed sexual harassment allegations made by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas. They’re wrong.
When it comes to rules and process, the Senate has changed for the worse. Thomas could not have been rammed through on a one-vote margin, as I assume Kavanuagh will be next week.
Democrats were in charge when Hill made her allegations. Joe Biden presided over that debacle. Democratic leaders, all male, read the polls midway through the hearing and abandoned Hill.
Had that been a split along party lines, as is the case today, rules were in place to protect the minority party.
That started to change in 2013. Frustrated by Republicans refusal to consider appointments to the federal bench made by President Barak Obama, Reid and the Democrats voted to end the filibuster on all cabinet and judicial nominees except for the Supreme Court.
Once Republicans had the majority and a Republican president, Mitch McConnell ended the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees in order to assure confirmation for Neil Gorsuch. Before then, he had held the seat open for more than a year, refusing to consider Obama nominee Merrick Garland.
Republicans are in such a rush now to get Kavanaugh through, shady past be damned, because they fear that Democrats will leave the seat open for two years if he is not confirmed by the mid-term election and Democrats take control of the Senate.
And that fear is probably justified.
McConnell has made the calculation that Republicans are going to have a tough time in the midterm anyway, so they might as well fill the seat and worry about the consequences later. Voters may be angry in November, but Republicans will have a reliable vote on the court for the next 30 years or more.
Democrats will win back the Senate, perhaps in this election, perhaps in a later one. And when they do, they will be looking to even the score.
It’s hard to see where this ends.
Walter Rubel is editorial page editor of the Sun-News. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow @WalterRubel on Twitter.