What did Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., achieve in attempting to deny a vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court?
Not keeping Gorsuch off the court; he was approved on Friday. Not preserving the filibuster for use against any future Trump nominee; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., abolished the tactic on Thursday. Not standing on principle; after rightly attacking Republicans for denying Merrick Garland a vote last year, Democrats tried to do the same thing.
Schumer did, however, achieve a political victory: He placated the “resistance” wing of the Democratic Party, which opposes any cooperation with Republicans. Party activists had threatened to mount primary campaigns against Democrats who allowed a vote to proceed, even organizing protests outside the Brooklyn home of Schumer, who is not up for re-election until 2022.
By caving to their demands, Schumer bought his conference some temporary peace. But the price for the country is steep.
This resistance movement is the mirror image of the Tea Party, which has pushed Republicans into a period of obstructionism that persists even with their transition to the governing party. If the Democrats’ resistance wing calls the tune on other major questions facing Congress — from infrastructure to trade to health care — Americans will be poorer for it.
Schumer must decide whether he wants to be the leader of the Senate’s Democrats or a follower of the party’s activist base. His first responsibility as an American is to be a patriot and do what’s right for the country. Leadership requires more than doing battle with the opposition; it requires speaking difficult truths to your own troops. It would not have required much courage for Schumer to announce that he would oppose Gorsuch while still allowing a vote to proceed.
Schumer’s gambit will impose a second, even more harmful, cost on the country: ending the tradition that senators consider judicial nominees’ legal qualifications more than their political philosophy. This tradition has taken some blows in recent decades, but with Garland and Gorsuch, the two parties have bludgeoned it to death. Leading the Democratic attack may have been the most shortsighted decision of Schumer’s long career.
Democrats will almost certainly come to regret taking revenge for Garland. It is not hard to imagine a Republican majority refusing to allow a vote on the Supreme Court nominee of a Democratic president — not in the last year of his or her tenure, but in the first. With this kind of tit-for-tat obstructionism, the court might even come to lack a six-member quorum.
The partisanship that has increasingly consumed Congress is now inflicting collateral damage on the courts. The long-term consequences — for the country and for Schumer’s legacy — could be severe.
FROM AN EDITORIAL AT BLOOMBERG VIEW