GOP nihilism in the Senate: The Republicans' judicial insanity goes well beyond Merrick Garland

What Republicans have done is make obstructionism the norm — and they continue to get away with it

By Sean Illing
May 17, 2016 7:34PM (UTC)
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Mitch McConnell (AP/Susan Walsh)

One of the least helpful myths in Washington is that the two parties are more or less the same. The people who advance this trope acknowledge obvious ideological differences, but they insist that Republicans and Democrats are equally petty, equally self-interested, and equally prudent. Or, if there are disparities between the parties, they're negligible.

This is false, and hardly debatable.


Since Obama was elected, the Republican Party has made gridlock its chief objective. The points are familiar but need constant repeating: Only one party used the nation's credit rating to blackmail the opposing party, not to accomplish anything but to score points with their purist base. Only one party declared its “top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Only one party has tried 56 times to repeal ObamaCare, knowing they lacked a veto-proof majority and in spite of the fact that Obama was re-elected with this legislation as his singular achievement. Only one party uses Congress as a vehicle for blinkered protests like the Benghazi hearing.

Not that it was needed, but the latest data on judicial confirmations under this GOP-led Senate proves, once again, how uniquely irresponsible the Republican Party has become. And the problem goes way beyond the GOP's obstruction of Merrick Garland, President Obama's latest Supreme Court nomination.

Judicial confirmations are generally tricky, especially when the Senate and the White House are controlled by different parties, but the behavior of this Senate is historically reckless. The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis explains:


An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that, under McConnell, the current Senate has confirmed the fewest civilian presidential nominees of any Congress in the past 30 years. Through April 30, 198 of President Obama's nominees have won confirmation in the 114th Congress, excluding military appointments. Compare that to the 345 nominees confirmed up to that date in the final two years of President George W. Bush's tenure, or the 286 nominees confirmed in the comparable window under President Bill Clinton.”

This is a Republican Party and Senate that has abdicated its responsibility to govern. The pace of confirmations during the final two years of Obama's administration is revealing when compared to the final two years of Bush's administration, during which Democrats held the Senate. A report by People for the American Way sums it up: “In 2007, the first year as the majority, the Democratic Senate confirmed 40 of President Bush's circuit and district court nominees (with a total of 68 by the end of 2008). In stark contrast, the McConnell Senate has confirmed only 17 judges during this congress.”

These numbers offer a snapshot of Republican nihilism in the Senate. Democrats have their follies to be sure, but they're not political arsonists committed to brinkmanship. They do their jobs. Only the Republicans refuse to concede that elections have consequences. What they've done, in effect, is make obstructionism the norm. They've tied judicial nominations to political campaigns in such a way that the entire process is now compromised.

The justice system requires judges in order to function properly. “Not having these courts adequately staffed,” as Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, told The Daily Beast, “creates a real impediment for average Americans – business people, everybody – to get justice in the courts.” And yet the GOP persists in its denialism.


Don't be fooled by false equivalencies: The two parties are not the same – one is flawed but serious and the other is just flawed.

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is a USAF veteran who previously taught philosophy and politics at Loyola and LSU. He is currently Salon's politics writer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Read his blog here. Email at

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