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.