Published: Oct 6, 2018 3:59 p.m.
By: Chris Edelson
Republican senators are willing soldiers in Trump’s authoritarian campaign
Those of us who see President Donald Trump as an authoritarian threat to America’s constitutional democracy have looked to Republicans in Congress, as the majority party, to set limits on executive power and ensure the president is accountable to the rule of law.
This reflects the belief that checks and balances within the government are designed to, in James Madison’s words, prevent “the accumulation of all powers [in one branch].” While congressional Republicans have often proven to be not up to the task of reining in Trump’s authoritarian instincts, some have offered at least rhetorical criticism of the president’s excesses. That provided at least a thin basis for hope that Republican members of Congress might rise to the occasion at some point.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings raise a chilling prospect: Republicans in Congress may not simply be passive observers of Trump’s authoritarian instincts. Instead, many may be actively embracing authoritarian tactics, by which I mean tactics opposed to constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and the principle that government powers are limited.
Republican leaders are making a determined effort to force Kavanaugh’s confirmation in the face of serious concerns about his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, or indeed any federal court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced his intention to move ahead with a confirmation vote even before senators had a chance to review a supplemental FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, including attempted rape, by Kavanaugh.
Even some Republican senators acknowledged that McConnell’s actions would be seen as nothing more than a naked power play. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reportedly told her colleagues this week “that the image of ‘old white men’ ramming Kavanaugh’s nomination through, under these circumstances, in the midst of the national #MeToo conversation, was crippling the party.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) reportedly “echoed [Murkowski’s] sentiments”. (Sen. Murkowski was the sole Republican to vote against moving Kavanaugh’s nomination ahead in a cloture vote on Friday).