Trump & McConnell rush to fill Supreme Court vacancy as COVID-19 surges
Earlier this week, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s funeral added yet another layer of darkness to the shadow hanging over the nation. The longest serving female justice succumbed to her medical complications and was laid to rest in a dignified procession that saw an outpouring of support from politicians, academics and the American people at large. Unfortunately, the unity in mourning was brief and fleeting. Against a cacophony of protests from the Democrats, President Trump moved with voracity to announce the nomination of DC Circuit Judge Neomi Rao to the Supreme Court. Mitch McConnell stated he would have “no issue” performing his constitutional duty to “advise and consent” by moving a justice through an expedited process to allow the Supreme Court to return to full strength.
Rao is exactly what Trump is looking for in his replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: loyal, legally savvy and young enough that her appointment would have her delivering conservative jurisprudence for a generation or more. At the height of President Trump’s impeachment trial in 2018, Rao wrote a dissertation that suggested Congress had conducted the process of impeachment incorrectly and the entire investigation would need to be repeated. Later, in Trump v. Mazars USA, a case focused on President Trump’s business finances, Rao wrote a widely-criticized dissenting opinion that suggested Congress does not have the power to investigate the President unless it is during an impeachment trial. Clearly, Rao’s legal opinions are flexible to suit the incumbent’s present predicament and if approved will likely be a reliable vote to keep Trump in office.
In Rao’s preliminary hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Lindsey Graham, opened with a performative, condescending tone that indicated he was unaware of the Democrats' seething anger over the proceedings. Diane Feinstein, the oldest member of the Senate and highest ranking Democrat in the Judiciary Committee, yielded her time to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who is still serving in the Senate. Harris held a moment of silence for RBG, and then proceeded to rhetorically disembowel Graham, and the GOP Senators for even considering allowing Trump to handpick a judge to adjudicate his own election case. Concluding the flourish, the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee stood up in unison and left the hearing. Regardless of the symbolic action from the Democrats, the Republicans had the votes within the committee to press Judge Rao forward. Rao will be before the entire Senate for an official vote on her appointment to the Supreme Court before December 18th, the last day of the Congressional term. The Democrats have promised to do everything in their power to stop this brazen appointment from happening. Pundits on both sides of the aisle are outraged at the blatant perversion of power and the refusal to adhere to the overwhelming determination of the American people voiced just 6 weeks ago. There is grave concern throughout the country that this is about to become the mother of all constitutional crises and the legitimacy of the court and our is democracy on the line.
In Georgia, Stacey Abrams’ march on Atlanta City Hall was a microcosm of the volatility permeating the entire country. The Georgia’s III%, a heavily-armed militia, had remained stationed within City Hall for almost three weeks. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has downplayed the severity of the armed occupancy and appeared as a “deer in the headlights” over exactly how to conclude the spectacle. President of the Governors Association Larry Hogan has hardly veiled his disappointment in Kemp’s scrambled, leaderless response to both the election crisis and the actions of Georgia’s III%.
Abrams and ten-thousand protestors began their march at Martin Luther King Jr Historical Park and traversed through Georgia State University on their way to Atlanta City Hall. Prior to the march, Abrams candidly acknowledged the danger of their actions as an ethnically diverse group marching en masse toward a heavily armed, nativist coalition is objectively a recipe for disaster. But she remained steadfast that the power of their message outweighs the potential danger of engaging with Georgia’s III% or contracting coronavirus.
As the opposing sides came together, they shoved and taunted each other for the entirety of the day. And then it was nightfall in Atlanta, and the courtyard that holds both the Georgia State Capitol and Atlanta City Hall was a sea of protestors. The march leadership, including Abrams and Lance Bottoms, had lost control of the demonstration. Police on horses were pulled from their saddles and the horses ran wildly through the crowd, trampling demonstrators. The statue of former Georgia Senator and Klansman John B. Gordon was desecrated before it came crashing down in a chaotic, lawless removal. InstagramLive feeds from demonstrators depicted a scene that one would expect in a fourth installment of Olympus Has Fallen. The protestors had backed the Georgia III% deep into the chambers of City Hall. Several people were injured, but miraculously there was no gunfire.
Unexpected heroes stepped up in the twelfth hour of the standoff at City Hall. Georgia natives and lifelong politicians Newt Gingrich and Sam Nunn spoke jointly in a public address that received attention on all networks. But it was only after President-elect Joe Biden, filling the 4-year vacuum of national leadership, gave a national address calling on Georgians and politicians of all stripes to join Gingrich and Nunn in ending the stalemate. A surge of tweets, posts and press releases came spewing from all corners of the Peach state. President of Georgia State University Mark Becker, Atlanta natives Dakota and Elle Fanning and even famed-Trump supporter Hulk Hogan pleaded with the people of both sides to calmly disperse. Dozens were arrested in the immediate aftermath, and it will take weeks to sort out the exact legal conclusion of the scene in Atlanta. President-elect Biden reminded Americans what effective leadership looks like, acting as a guiding hand for subtly extinguishing the extreme polarization in the nation; perhaps this was a preview of what is to come in his presidency.
As this crisis unfolded, President Trump did little but tweet empty threats and ineffective messages. In fact, very little attention was being paid to the President at all. His inattentiveness to crises and proclivity for making them worse has become a signature trait of his divisive presidency. President Trump is in the middle of a legal battle that will determine whether there is four weeks or four years left of his presidency. Armed insurgence of government offices and cataclysmic Twitter beefs are merely two of the several dilemmas on the President’s overflowing plate.
Around the rest of the country, COVID-19 remains a threat and the death toll has truly started to explode in unseen numbers as it comingles with the seasonal flu. Democrats continue to blame the Trump administration for the public health disaster that has gone uniquely unmitigated in comparison to other industrialized nations. Just before the election, President Trump forced a mostly untested vaccine through the FDA, and touted a “total victory” over the virus. But within the two months since administration of the vaccine to over 1 million people, almost 5% of the recipients have experienced catastrophic side effects, while the remainder received very limited immunity from the disease. Trump has deflected responsibility by highlighting the fact the United States was the first country to have a vaccine. The President seems totally uninformed of the necessity of the clinical trial process, which requires patience, time and, of course, proven effectiveness. Needless to say, further use of the dangerous vaccine has been discontinued.
Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has come under heavy fire for promoting Trump’s vaccine. When Trump began advocating for his lightly tested vaccine, DeSantis had himself vaccinated on television. His office could not be reached for comment on the status of his health, but Governor DeSantis has been noticeably absent from his weekly press conferences. The same has been said of Vice President Mike Pence, who has not been seen in public since mid-November. The Trump administration has begun to frame Pence’s absence from the public as the reserved attitude that “naturally” comes with four years of Vice Presidency experience. But rumors are developing that Pence has either developed complications from the vaccine or contracted the virus.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has returned to the spotlight as the spokesperson for the entire Northeast. This week Governor Cuomo and Governor Wolf announced that a hard border with Ohio will be erected in West Pennsylvania. Ohioans looking to enter Pennsylvania, and therefore the Northeast at large, will now have to undergo a scheduled Coronavirus test and monitored isolation upon entry. A physical border surveilled by law enforcement within the United States is yet another manifestation of circumstances previously unforeseeable in this country.
Though Trump’s vaccine is ineffective and potentially deadly if injected, Jared Kushner has made it unequivocally clear that this will be the only vaccine fully funded by the government. Consequently, the onus of creating and distributing an effective vaccine is now entirely on private industry. The growing concern is that private industry will set astronomical pricing and sell the in-demand vaccine to the highest bidder, whether it be a health insurance company or directly to wealthy consumers. The socialization of healthcare was a popular issue during the Democratic primaries. President-elect Biden repeated his promise that he will not allow an effective vaccine to be commercialized for profit, but frighteningly, it sounds like Biden is campaigning again.
Of course, the constant, ominous sense of uneasiness that has defined the Trump presidency has not subsided. With 53 Republican Senators to the Democrats 47, an entirely partisan vote will put Neomi Rao on the Supreme Court and likely lead to an eruption of protests and potentially violent uprising. The Judicial Branch will have essentially become an extension of the White House with three justices appointed by Trump. Chief Justice Roberts has expressed great concern for the court and the country should the vote proceed. Democrats are already calling for unelected and defeated Senators to abstain from voting. Susan Collins, the most senior defeated Republican, dodged questions from the press about her position on Rao’s appointment. Mitch McConnell is determined to have the vote on Rao on the Senate calendar by the end of this afternoon. The Democrats have less than a week to flip four Republican Senators, or Trump’s election dispute is in the hands of a highly politicized, primarily conservative Supreme Court