If you haven’t been following the wave of events on Capitol Hill over the past few days, no worries. All you have to do is picture a bunch of crying babies dressed in three-piece suits throwing building blocks at each another.
Republicans and Democrats have spent the first week and a half of the Trump era blaming each other for obstruction, incompetence and deceit. At the same time that Senate and House Democrats helped organize protests outside the U.S. Supreme Court against President Trump’s executive order on Muslim immigration and refugees, Democratic lawmakers have adopted a strategy of frustrating Trump’s confirmation processes. They’ve boycotted committee hearings, habitually withheld unanimous consent requests, and are pledging to fight the appointment of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch “tooth and nail” (Chuck Schumer’s favorite phrasing over the last month).
Trump’s supporters call him a man of action. He hates talk, he despises time-consuming process, he wants results immediately. House Democrats don’t have much authority to do anything to stall Trump’s legislative agenda — they are in the thankless minority and are at the whims of Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s Republican conferences. Chuck Schumer and his Senate Democratic caucus, however, do have that power. And they intend to talk until they’re red in the face—and Trump is too.
After Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee neglected to show up at a hearing to debate the nominations of Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department, Senate institutionalists, normally calm, had a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” moment. The long-serving Senator Orrin Hatch called Democratic members of his committee “idiots” for not attending a meeting. Mitch McConnell took the podium during his weekly briefing for reporters and all but branded Democrats “foolish” children who still can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected president (in all fairness, there is probably some of that still going on). Democrats, meanwhile, accused Trump’s nominees of deceiving them.
This went on and on, until finally Republicans couldn’t take it anymore. On Wednesday, Hatch deployed his own “nuclear option” by changing the rules of his committee in order to allow a vote on two of Trump’s nominees without having Democrats in the room. If Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, McConnell may come to a similar conclusion — that it’s simply hopeless to ask Democrats in the Senate to be reasonable and that it’s time to activate the so-called “nuclear option” and nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees entirely.
Rarely is anything in Washington a one-way street. Democrats aren’t the only ones being obstructionist and provocative here. One can make the case that McConnell’s critiques about Democratic stonewalling are so hypocritical that it’s a mystery Republican lieutenants like John Cornyn and John Thune don’t roll their eyes whenever Mitch mentions it.
But here we are. I’m fairly certain that this isn’t the “change” the American people wanted when they voted last November. Hell, it makes you miss the good old days when Mitch McConnell was battling Harry Reid.