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Senate pivots to Covid stimulus vote after McConnell misjudges Supreme Court push

It turns out not even a shiny Supreme Court supermajority can hide the problems Trump’s party has caused Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 22, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file

Looks like Sen. Mitch McConnell got it wrong — again. And this time it could cost him the Senate majority.

Republicans initially thought that a fast appointment of a conservative justice would help them in battleground states. After all, nothing rallies the conservative base like a Supreme Court appointment. However, given the likelihood of confirmation, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to confirm Amy Coney Barrett turned out to be fairly uneventful and relatively drama-free. Most importantly for Democrats, they have not taken America’s focus off the coronavirus.

Republicans initially thought that a fast appointment of a conservative justice would help them in battleground states.

The reality on the ground is that the virus has not gone away, and there are spikes across the Midwest and elsewhere. Suddenly, McConnell is interested in passing some kind of Covid-19 relief package again. That the majority leader would realize the political importance of this pivot isn’t surprising. That the members of his own party aren’t pushing harder for it is.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who recently tested positive for Covid-19, said he would wear “a moon suit” to the Senate so he could vote to confirm Barrett as a Supreme Court justice. It was a “joke” devoid of both humor and empathy.

Currently, Wisconsin is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases, ranking fourth in the nation for new Covid-19 cases. According to seven-day averages from the Covid Tracking Project, hospitalizations and deaths have rapidly risen since September. To date, close to 170,000 people in Johnson’s home state have tested positive; over 1,500 have died. Johnson is not facing re-election this November, which may be why he appears to be turning a blind eye toward the crisis unfolding under his nose.

Among those who can’t turn away from the impact of Covid-19 is Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At one point he probably thought his outsized role in the Supreme Court nomination process would help push him over the top in a tough re-election fight. However, a recent Quinnipiac University poll has him tied with his opponent, former state Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison.

In fact, Graham is getting so concerned about re-election that he bucked away from the president. After President Donald Trump tweeted that he had ended negotiations on the Covid-19 relief package, Graham tweeted, "Time to come together to help America deal with COVID as we move toward a vaccine."

At one time it was mildly amusing and yet deeply disturbing to watch so many Republican senators contort themselves into pretzels trying to answer — or, more likely, avoid — questions about Trump’s unstable and unpatriotic behavior.

Now they find themselves having to explain why they have prioritized the confirmation of one Supreme Court justice over helping the millions who are suffering right now. Nearly 220,000 families are grieving the loss of loved ones. Over 30 million people have claimed unemployment benefits, and thousands of small businesses are struggling. An estimated 1 in 10 Americans live with food insecurity and, medical experts caution that a double whammy of seasonal flu and a second wave of the coronavirus could still be on the horizon.

In a pathetic attempt to make it look like he wants to help his members struggling in their re-election campaigns, McConnell announced that he finally would push for a Senate vote on a Covid-19 relief package. House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion stimulus bill in May, which died in the Senate. This month they passed a second bill, this one for $2.2 trillion. But McConnell’s proposed spending bill is about 25 percent of that.

McConnell’s feeble offer should offend every American. He and his Republican colleagues must be held accountable at the ballot box this November. The Senate Republicans, perhaps minus Mitt Romney, have proven that they are not leaders; they are blind followers of a president who cares only for himself.

Some in the Republican Party have looked into the future and decided they don’t like what they see. Sen. Pat Toomey announced earlier this month — just four weeks before the election — that he will not be seeking re-election two years from now. This is a big, flashing sign that some Republicans know their gooses are getting rapidly cooked.

McConnell and Trump have spent the past few months desperately trying to gin up excitement by distracting Americans from their 2020 reality. But it turns out not even a shiny new Supreme Court supermajority can hide the problems Trump’s party has caused.