Negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and members of the White House’s negotiating team — Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — have already been tense and at times, rancorous.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s announcement that he plans to hold a vote in the Senate to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat could increase the animus between Democrats and Republicans and delay a deal on coronavirus relief until after the election.
Here is the likelihood on how the open seat could affect negotiations:
1. McConnell’s Statement Set Off a Political Firestorm
As Heavy reported, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of very few women to reach the Supreme Court and a champion for gender equity and women’s rights, died at the age of 87 following a bout with pancreatic cancer.
Pelosi released a statement in which she called Ginsburg’s death, “an incalculable loss for our democracy” and said the following:
Every family in America benefited from her brilliant legacy and courage … Her tireless advocacy in the fight for gender equality, whether working at the ACLU, arguing cases before the Supreme Court or authoring thoughtful and historic opinions and dissents as an Associate Justice, leaves an enduring legacy of progress for all women.
Trump also reacted to Ginsburg’s death via a statement he also released on Twitter, in which he called Ginsburg “a titan of the law.”
“Renowned for her brilliant mind and her powerful dissents at the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues or different points of view. Her opinions, including well-known decisions regarding the legal equality of women and the disabled, have inspired all Americans, and generations of great legal minds … May her memory be a great and magnificent blessing to the world.
In a statement he released on Ginsburg’s death, McConnell said, “Her intelligence and determination earned her respect and admiration throughout the legal world, and indeed throughout the entire nation, which now grieves alongside her family, friends, and colleagues.”
However, the latter part of McConnell’s statement regarding Ginsburg’s death indicates there will be another fierce political battle over the vacancy, when he said, “Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
In response, Schumer tweeted that the next president should fill the vacancy:
McConnell’s statement goes against even Ginsburg’s posthumous wishes, which she dictated in a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera, saying “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
2. Schumer & Pelosi Have Put on a United Front During COVID-19 Relief Negotiations
Schumer and Pelosi have remained a united front on passing a coronavirus relief bill. In a joint statement released September 8, Schumer and Pelosi blasted McConnell for refusing to bring the $3 trillion HEROES Act — which passed the Democrat-controlled House — up for a vote in the Senate. They have also criticized the $1 trillion HEALS Act he introduced in the Senate:
In May, while the American people and small businesses were crying out for help in dealing with a pandemic and recession, Sen. McConnell dismissed their needs, saying that Senate Republicans would ‘take a pause’ and ‘wait and see.’ Now, after months of inaction, Republicans are finally realizing the damage their pause has done to the American economy and our nation’s health. As they scramble to make up for this historic mistake, Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere. If anyone doubts McConnell’s true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support.
The pair has also criticized Republicans’ “skinny” bill, which lacked funding for stimulus checks and airline support. Pelosi has demanded that Republicans meet in the middle on a $2.2 trillion spending measure and Forbes reported that Pelosi told Meadows that Democrats were “not budging” on that price tag. Even though both Pelosi and Meadows expressed optimism in early September, that seems to have cooled off.
Pelosi pushed back on accusations that she was being uncompromising at a September 18 press conference, telling reporters, “It’s not perfect. Perfect is $3.4 trillion. Remember, we’ve come down $1 trillion and we met in the – said we’d meet them in the middle. So, this is not about perfect being an enemy of the good.”
Schumer has supported Pelosi’s demands that Republicans meet in the middle and settle for $2.2 trillion in spending. At a joint press conference with Pelosi, he said, “Democrats in the House and Senate will keep fighting for a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of all of those who have been hurt.”
3. Republicans Have Blamed Democrats for the Lack of a COVID-19 Relief Bill
The message on how much Republican negotiators are willing to compromise has been a little less clear.
During a White House press briefing held September 16, Trump showed half-hearted support for the Problem Solvers Caucus’ “March to Common Ground COVID Stimulus Framework,” which would cost roughly $2 trillion and included items such as stimulus checks and extended unemployment. On that proposal, Trump said, “I agree with a lot of it.” Trump has also said he wants Americans to receive more stimulus checks and thought the framework was a “positive” development.
Mnuchin has said he is open to unconditional negotiations. Meadows, on the other hand, blamed Democrats for the lack of a bill. In an interview on Fox News, he said, “You’re going to see members of Congress leaving Washington, D.C. to go home and pretend like they’re working hard on this particular deal when, in fact, the checks are not going out to the American people and unemployment benefits will start to cease.”
In the Senate, McConnell also slammed Democrats, saying, “Republican Senators, like working families across the country, had hoped the Senate would be spending this week completing more bipartisan pandemic relief. Since Democrats are stonewalling pandemic relief, the Senate is using our time to confirm more well-qualified judicial nominees to lifetime positions on the federal bench.”
4. Could the Vacant SCOTUS Seat Hurt Negotiations?
After Justice Antonin Scalia died and left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, McConnell refused to hold hearings on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and stated that doing so in Obama’s last year in office (also known as a lame duck session) would be unprecedented and unfair to the American people. In a Washington Post op-ed, he and other Republicans wrote, “Given that we are in the midst of the presidential election process, we believe that the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Now McConnell has had to fight his own words and accusations that he is going against the very precedent he set up in blocking Garland.
Some on Twitter are calling for Democrats to become complete obstructionists in the wake of McConnell’s announcement.
It is sentiments like this one that indicates a political fight over the vacancy might kill any chances of either side remaining on speaking terms long enough to push a coronavirus relief bill through.
Pelosi famously said that due to Trump’s behavior, she no longer attempts to negotiate with him and prefers to speak with his representatives. “I’ve spoken to his representatives and he says that they speak for him. And I take that to be true about the secretary of the Treasury and we have worked together,” Pelosi said, according to The Hill. As for conversations with the president, she said, “I don’t find it a good use of time.”
Newsweek reported that even McConnell was skeptical that negotiations on coronavirus relief measures could be successful during an election season. “We haven’t reached an agreement, and I don’t know if that’s going to be possible with all of the partisan juices flowing like they are some two months from the election,” he said, according to the Newsweek.
Division and partisanship over each parties’ legislative response to George Floyd’s death, Trump’s attitude toward funding for state and local governments and the revelations that Trump was aware of the deadly virus as early as February 7 have already hampered talks over coronavirus relief measures, according to Roll Call, U.S. News, Politico and other news sites.
It is unclear if Pelosi plans to use her ability to hold up COVID-19 relief measures passed in the Senate as leverage against a potential Supreme Court nominee. In part of her statement on Ginsburg’s death, she wrote, “We must honor Justice Ginsburg’s trailblazing career and safeguard her powerful legacy by ensuring that the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court upholds her commitment to equality, opportunity and justice for all.”
On a phone call with other Democratic members of Congress, Axios reported that Schumer said if McConnell attempts to fill the vacant seat, “Nothing is off the table next year.” Here are his comments in full, as reported by The Hill:
Let me be clear: If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year. Nothing is off the table.
Everything Americans value is at stake. Health care, protections for preexisting conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change and so much else is at risk.
New York Congressman Jerry Nadler tweeted that Democrats should expand the court if they win the majority in the next election, writing, “If Sen. McConnell and @SenateGOP were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session—before a new Senate and President can take office—then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court.”
5. Twitter Has Erupted With Anger Directed at McConnell
Twitter exploded with criticism against McConnell’s intentions to fill the vacancy with a Trump nominee, with many saying that it would be hypocritical and selfish to vote on a Supreme Court nominee after he has refused to put the HEROES Act to a vote for several months.
Author Jeffrey Guterman wrote, “Mitch McConnell’s attempt to push through a Supreme Court nomination less than two months before the 2020 election after he blocked Barack Obama’s appointment nine months before the 2016 election is the most hypocritical act in U.S. political history.”
One person tweeted, “Woke up this morning and remembered how Mitch McConnell refuses to pass a COVID relief package that’s been in his chamber longer than a Supreme Court nominee will be. How do I make sure he doesn’t get another term?”
Another person tweeted, “We should never get over the fact that Mitch McConnell would adjourn the Senate without giving the American people desperately needed covid relief but would gleefully bring them back to confirm a Supreme Court justice weeks before the election. Heartless and shameful.”
Another person tweeted, “The senate is unable to come up with a covid relief package for small businesses that are hanging on by a thread. But they are going to ram a Supreme Court pick through in 3 months? F*** them.”
Democrat-leaning political outfits, such as Swing Left, have already begun campaigns to sway public opinion away from allowing McConnell to attempt filling the vacant seat; this tweet, containing a video of McConnell’s explanation for blocking Merrick Garland already has more than half a million views:
Protesters have already gathered outside McConnell’s house, demanding that he delay a vote to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat, USA Today reported.