The hypocrisy of current Republican leadership is on full display this week, as the Senate pushes to hold hearings on Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees before they have been fully vetted. In 2009, after Barack Obama was elected President, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a strongly worded letter to Harry Reid, then the majority leader, outlining “standards” for Obama’s cabinet nominees. Prior to holding any hearings on Obama cabinet nominees, McConnell demanded complete and thorough vetting, including FBI background checks, financial disclosures/release of tax returns, and a review by the Office of Government Ethics OGE). McConnell’s letter stated that “These best practices serve the Senate well, and we will insist on their fair and consistent application.”
This time around, with Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, McConnell doesn’t seem nearly as concerned about fair and consistent application of best practices. Trump’s cabinet nominees (one of whom, Elaine Chao, is Mitch McConnell’s wife) are set to be shepherded through the approval process before they have all been thoroughly vetted for potential conflicts of interest (a potentially huge problem in a Trump administration), released financial disclosures, or been reviewed by the OGE for ethical issues. The head of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub Jr., expressed serious concern, saying that in the nearly 40 years his office has existed, no cabinet nominee has had confirmation hearings prior to completion of an ethics review. In response to widespread criticism, McConnell has essentially said, “get over it.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer isn’t letting this hypocritical stance go unchallenged. To make his point, Schumer sent McConnell’s own 2009 letter back to him, with only a few names crossed out and updated:
McConnell has so far shown no sign he will apply the same standards to Trump nominees that he demanded be applied to Obama nominees. This blatant hypocrisy is apparently part of the Majority Leader’s strategy now. McConnell also recently said “the American people will not tolerate” any Democratic obstruction of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees… mere months after openly and unconstitutionally blocking Obama’s high court nominee, Merrick Garland, a widely respected jurist with mainstream centrist views.
It is probably safe to say we can expect this kind of dishonesty and partisan hypocrisy for at least as long as Mitch McConnell leads the Senate. Before anyone comments that Democrats have been guilty of hypocrisy in the past – yes, politicians in general have a long-standing reputation for dishonesty and hypocrisy, and there are examples on both sides of the aisle. But we must deal today with what problems face us today, and Mitch McConnell is a particularly egregious example – not only of blatant partisan hypocrisy, but also an extraordinarily arrogant attempt to normalize it. McConnell isn’t even trying to hide his hypocrisy; just like the president-elect, he is comfortable with blatant dishonesty, trusting that tribal partisanship and Republican control of the White House and Congress will shield him from retribution.
Chuck Schumer’s clever trolling of Mitch McConnell with McConnell’s own words may be a sign that Democrats are preparing to resist Republican efforts to abuse power and normalize hypocrisy. American citizens, for our part, must be prepared to do the same.