Staff Columnist

Grassley, Ernst pour gasoline on our national inferno

Sen. Joni Ernst responds to a comment at a Sept. 2 roundtable discussion between Senators Ernst and Chuck Grassley with
Sen. Joni Ernst responds to a comment at a Sept. 2 roundtable discussion between Senators Ernst and Chuck Grassley with leaders from local nonprofits and grassroots organizations at the Kirkwood Hotel in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

As kids, many of us had that huckster friend who wanted to flip a coin for the last slice of pizza, the first turn at a video game or the next game of pool.

“Heads I win, tails you lose,” the huckster would say.

It was baldfaced chicanery. You’d have to be a dope to fall for it. How dumb do you think I am?

It’s also how the U.S. Senate now operates. Heads they win, tails we lose. How dumb they must think we are.

“If I were chairing the (judiciary) committee, based on what I told people in 2016, I could not process (the nomination),” Grassley said in July on the issue of whether a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020 should be filled before the election. It was hypothetical.

What was not hypothetical is what Grassley did as judiciary chair in 2016, refusing to even hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee for a court vacancy, Merrick Garland. The reason stated then by Grassley and his fellow Republicans was that filling the seat so close to the election would deny the people their say at the ballot box. So principled.

But then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18, just six weeks from Election Day.

Now Grassley says the liberal justice should be replaced by President Donald Trump and the GOP Senate before the election. It’s now hypocritical.

He’s not the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley says. Chairman Lindsey Graham, who also said previously a 2020 vacancy should wait for voters, now wants to move ahead before the election. As does the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. So Grassley is on board, too. What principle?

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Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who said in 2018 that a 2020 vacancy should not be filled before the election, also now favors confirming a justice swiftly. This is no surprise, given her affinity for all things Trump. She’s embraced a corrupt con man for this long, why stop now?

“While there was ambiguity about the American people’s will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020,” Grassley said.

Also, Democrats would totally do it if they were in charge, Grassley said, sounding every bit the childish huckster.

Ambiguity? With all due respect, senator, our divided nation is on fire. Pouring more gasoline on it does not make you a patriot. It makes you an arsonist.

You get another conservative justice as the nation cleaves to the point of no repair. With our democratic institutions teetering on the brink, you’ve decided to give the nation’s highest court a cynical shove.

And the revenge spiral now will spin at maximum velocity. Republicans invented a principle in screwing over Garland and now abandon it with Ginsburg. Angry Democrats determined to win the majority are vowing revenge, potentially by scrapping the filibuster, enacting judicial term limits, packing the court or giving statehood to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, likely creating four blue Senate seats. Republicans, no doubt, have their own revenge fantasies. And the flames grow higher.

When the smoke clears, the Supreme Court’s already tattered credibility will be obliterated. One more vital, functioning institution undermined and crushed by political warfare. It will be remembered that Republicans who started the fire in 2016 lacked the courage to stop it in 2020.

Grassley’s role in this is not surprising, but still is deeply disappointing to those of us who watched his Senate career evolve. His name meant something in Iowa. Now it turns out he’s just another Mitch McConnell who likes Dairy Queen soft-serve and has a sweet lawn mower setup. Iowa’s “Common Sense Senator” is now the “Win at all cost senator.”

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For Ernst, who is locked in a tight reelection race, her decision to back McConnell’s confirmation drive should cement the idea that the only people she’s really made squeal in six years are her constituents.

Her votes to scrap health care coverage and her loyalty to an erratic president who has harmed Iowa from its ethanol plants to its spiking COVID-19 cases have come home to roost.

And there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Even if the president loses and Democrats win the Senate, Trumpism and its acolytes will continue waging war with a frightening intensity. Jimmy Stewart will not be rushing into the Senate anytime soon to expose the whole scam. Our better angels are mounted on McConnell’s wall.

Courage is what we need. A lot of it. It’s what drove Ginsburg’s fight for equality under the law. But, sadly, we’re more likely to get more hypocrisy, chicanery and soft-serve.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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