John Krull

John Krull

Republican U.S. senators determined to rush Judge Amy Coney Barrett onto the U.S. Supreme Court have found a refrain.

They say, again and again, that Democrats haven’t questioned Barrett’s qualifications to serve on the nation’s highest court.

That is true — but not for the reasons Republicans might think.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee didn’t use their time to eviscerate Barrett the way they did with Brett Kavanaugh two years ago. Even prosecutorial pit bulls such as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California — the party’s vice-presidential nominee — and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, treated Barrett with marked consideration and courtesy.

But that’s because Barrett isn’t their target.

Democrats doubtless have figured out how to count and realize that they don’t and won’t have the votes to stop Barrett’s elevation to the high bench.

So, they have decided to use the Barrett confirmation process as an opportunity to tie congressional Republicans even more firmly to President Donald Trump, whose poll numbers remain underwater.

And to put the entire GOP on trial.

Along the way, they plan to give Republicans all the rope they need to hang themselves. They want the GOP to offer arguments and set precedents that will come back to haunt Republicans later.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, revealed the Democrats’ strategy during the second day of the hearings.

He asked Barrett — courteously, even apologetically — to answer some questions he was surprised one would have to ask, but, this being Donald Trump’s America, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Booker asked if white supremacy was wrong. Barrett answered with an immediate yes.

After that, things got murkier.

Booker wanted to know if presidents and vice presidents were required to peacefully transfer power to their successors. Barrett ducked and weaved, saying that she didn’t want to be drawn into a political discussion and, besides, she might have to rule someday on such a question.

Booker also asked if the president could delay an election solely on his or her own authority. Again, Barrett evaded the question.

So, it went.

If Booker had continued to his logical conclusion, he would have asked whether the judge believed the U.S. Constitution even exists. And Barrett, if she stuck to her strategy, would have had to argue that she could express no opinion on the matter because she might have to rule on whether the Constitution does actually exist at some unknown future date.

It didn’t need to go that far, because Booker and his fellow Democrats got everything they wanted out of that exchange.

President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their fellow Republicans have tried to put Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Harris on the defensive by asking if they intend to “pack” the Supreme Court should they win. Biden and Harris have dodged the question.

The GOP isn’t likely to have much luck getting traction with that argument now.

The Constitution grants the power to determine when elections will be held to Congress, not the president. And the law states clearly that the president and the vice president must yield office at noon on Jan. 20 following a presidential election, which must be held four years following the previous one.

Those aren’t matters of opinion.

They’re facts.

If the GOP’s nominee to the nation’s highest court, a self-proclaimed devotee of original intent, refuses to say that the president must abide by the Constitution – and the party’s senators sit in mute agreement – then getting people worked up about changing the size of a bench that has grown and shrunk through the years won’t be easy. If the same nominee and the same senators argue that the president doesn’t have to follow the law, arousing fury over ending the filibuster will be a tough sell.

The party that throws away the rulebook with one breath doesn’t get to invoke the rules in the next one.

Doubtless, there are Republicans savvy enough to realize just how they’re being marched to the gallows.

In the days to come, when their words and actions are flung back at them as justification for actions they deplore, they will want to blame Democrats for their troubles.

They shouldn’t be so modest.

Democrats did give them the rope.

But the Republicans fashioned it into a noose.

And then stuck their own heads in it.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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