Jackson, COVID and a retirement show the partisan path of Congress

Jackson, COVID and a retirement show the partisan path of Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — A landmark Supreme Court confirmation who endured a flawed process. The collapse of a bipartisan compromise for more pandemic funding. The departure of a stalwart shrinking group of moderate House Republicans.

Party-line fights on Capitol Hill are as old as the republic, routinely escalating as elections near. Yet three notable week-long events illustrate how Congress’ short- and long-term paths point toward an intensification of partisanship.


Democrats rejoiced Thursday when the Senate, 53-47, confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black female justice. They boasted a bipartisan seal of approval from the trio of Republicans who supported him: Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

By historical standards, however, the opposition party’s three votes were insignificant and underscored the recent trend for Supreme Court confirmations to become tests of loyalty to party ideology. That’s a departure from a decades-old norm in which senators might not like a candidate’s judicial philosophy but cave in on a president’s choice, barring a disqualifying revelation.

Murkowski said his support for Jackson stemmed in part from a “rejection of the corrosive politicization” of how both parties view Supreme Court nominations, which “gets worse and further from reality every year.”

Republicans said they would treat Jackson with respect, and many did. His questions and criticisms of her were direct and partisan, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, saying “the Senate sees itself as a partner in this process” with the president.

However, some potential GOP presidential contenders in 2024 appeared to use Jackson’s confirmation to garner support from the far right. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., deceptively accused her of being unusually lenient towards child pornography offenders. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, suggested that she might have defended the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, before she was born.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said some Republicans “went overboard, as far as I’m concerned, to the extreme,” reflecting “the reality of politics on Capitol Hill.” ”. Cotton was “fundamentally unfair, but that’s their tradition,” Durbin said.


Senate approval of high court nominees by voice vote, without bothering to call the roll, was standard for most of the 20th century. Conservative Antonin Scalia made it to the Supreme Court 98-0 in 1986, while liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg won approval 96-3 seven years later.

There were bitter fights. Democrats blocked the nomination of conservative Robert Bork in 1987 and unsuccessfully opposed Clarence Thomas’s ascension in 1991 after he was accused of sexual harassment.

Resentments intensified in early 2016. McConnell, then Majority Leader, blocked the Senate from even considering President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland to replace the late Scalia. McConnell cited the presidential election nearly nine months away, angering Democrats.

Donald Trump was elected and ultimately filled three vacancies over nearly unanimous Democratic opposition.

Democrats took issue with Brett Kavanaugh after he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman decades earlier, which he denied. They voted solidly against Amy Coney Barrett after Trump and McConnell rushed to approve her nomination when a vacancy arose just weeks before Election Day 2020, a sprint Democrats called hypocritical.


Senators from both parties agreed a $10 billion COVID-19 package Monday that President Joe Biden wants more therapies, vaccines and tests. With BA.2, the new omicron variant, spread across the country, seemed ready for congressional approval.

Hours later, negotiators led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, appeared surprised when their compromise fell off the rails. Republicans wanted to add an extension to the crackdown on migrants crossing the border with Mexico that Trump imposed in 2020, citing the public health threat of the pandemic.

Many Republicans were skeptical that more COVID-19 money was needed. But his demand for an immigration amendment has transformed a fight over how much more to spend on a disease that has killed 980,000 people in the US into a battle over border security, tailor-made for the GOP’s upcoming political campaigns.

Immigration divides Democrats, and Republicans believe the issue may further solidify their chances of winning control of Congress in the November election. Playing defense, Schumer postponed debate on the COVID-19 bill.

The Democrats deserved some blame for being outmaneuvered. House Democrats rejected a $15 billion deal in March, rejecting compromise budget savings to pay for it.

And in a patently tone-deaf political moment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced April 1just as negotiators were completing their latest compromise, that Trump-era immigration restrictions would expire on May 23.

That gave Republicans an irresistible political gift to chase.


Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., announced his Retirement Tuesday. He is the fourth of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year to say they will not seek re-election.

Upton attributed his departure to running in a new district, but that didn’t stop Trump from proclaiming, “UPTON QUITS! 4 down and 6 remaining”. The House impeached Trump for inciting supporters who attacked Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, but the GOP-led Senate acquitted him.

Now in his 18th term, Upton’s departure removes another moderate from a Republican Party that has leaned to the right in recent years, particularly when it comes to showing allegiance to Trump.

The pro-business Upton, 68, was a driving force behind legislation that spurred pharmaceutical development and has worked with Democrats on legislation affecting the energy and auto industries. His bipartisan work and his affability put him in the shrinking group of Republicans receiving praise from Democrats.

“For him, bipartisanship and compromise are not dirty words,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.


Pitched battles over bills that fund federal agencies and expand the government’s borrowing authority are now commonplace. When those disputes are resolved and federal shutdowns and defaults are averted, lawmakers hail as triumphs what is their most rudimentary task: keeping government running.

Despite the divisions over money from COVID-19 and Jackson, there has also been cooperation.

Congress voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ban Russian oil and downgrade trade relations with that country following its invasion of Ukraine. There is progress on bipartisan commerce and technology legislation, and a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure was signed into law last year.

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