The Senate has often been referred to as the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, most frequently by the Senators themselves. But the confirmation hearings on President Trump’s nominations have been marked by an absence of deliberation and responsive argument. They reveal a nation in the grip of polarization and interest group power.
The Democrats have been making a show of holding up the President’s nominees with late night sessions. And in these sessions they did make some arguments against the nominees. The Republicans almost never responded substantively. It is not as if they cannot respond. For instance, many of the arguments against Betsey DeVos were very weak based on distortions of her record of promoting charters schools in Detroit and on the inaccurate premise more competition in K-12 would harm rather than help children. But Republicans recognized that few people were paying attention other than the Democratic base. More dramatic debate would just draw more attention to the Democratic resistance. And what would please the Republican base were not arguments, but the actual confirmations for which Republicans had the votes.
And lest one think the Democrats were interested in actually persuading their colleagues, they boycotted at least three committee hearings where nominees were going to be debated. Walking out made a great show of anger to please their own base, but made a mockery of deliberation. Woodrow Wilson famously said Congress in action is Congress in committee. During these confirmations congressional inaction was Congress in committee.
The only time that I saw floor debate come alive was about the question of whether Elizabeth Warren violated Senate Rule 19.
Well, I agree with Donald Trump that the President’s big speech was boring and lethargic. That’s partly because there’s nothing more pathetic than a lame-duck President whose party doesn’t control Congress. He may talk big about executive orders and such, but he can’t help but project weakness and irrelevance. It’s true that the President is reduced to acting unconstitutionally, because the Constitution is no longer any President’s friend as his second term nears its end. Let me put forward the heretical thought that it would be better if he could run for reelection, and that constitutionally mandated term limits are counterproductive especially for Presidents. Now that I’ve made you angry, we can talk some about anger.
Marco Rubio demonstrated keen political instincts during one of the primary debates when he used his opening remarks to argue for an end to the stigmatization of vocational training, handily linking the stigmatization to the minimum wage and America’s flagging economy.
The Republican debate on CNBC confirms that campaign finance reform would boost the progressive agenda, because it shows the depth of bias in the free media. The questions of reporters–even those who worked for a business news network– tended to be premised on the need for one government program or another to solve a social problem. As William McGurn noted, in the Democratic debate reporters do not grill the candidates with questions from a small government perspective. And CNBC reporters are not the exception; studies show that media reporters lean strongly left.
It is the capacity of the media to shape the political agenda that puts Republicans on the defensive during campaigns. It is only at election time when citizens have more motivation to listen that independent political messages can puncture that progressive agenda control. That is the reason that Progressives want to reduce such messaging. Campaign finance reform magnifies the power of the agenda control that the media has the rest of the year.
One of the best comments in the debate was precisely to this effect, although it was not said in the context of a debate about campaign finance reform. Marco Rubio stated that the mainstream media was a ”Superpac for Democrats.”