WASHINGTON -- President Obama got it two-thirds right when he said the delayed confirmation of his attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch, is owing to Senate dysfunction and Republican stubbornness.
He left out the part about Democratic intransigence and at least one incident of “wacko-birdness” from the left.
When John McCain originally used “wacko-birds” to describe a few of his Senate colleagues, including now-presidential candidate Ted Cruz, he seems to have released a contagion. The U.S. Senate, once the perch of eagles, has begun to resemble an aviary of grackles. Much a-cawing about little.
Lynch’s qualifications aren’t really in question. Most agree she’s more than up to the job, yet her confirmation has been stalled by Republicans who want something in exchange for their blessings. Within this construct are at least four moving parts which have little or nothing to do with Lynch’s confirmation -- sex trafficking, abortion, race and immigration.
If you’re not confused, stick around.
First up, abortion and sex. What else?
Republicans are demanding a (Henry) Hyde Amendment-type component to the sex-trafficking bill. This sort of restriction of federal spending for abortion has routinely been included without debate in relevant legislation for nearly 40 years. This time, Democrats say no-go.
Republicans respond: No Hyde, no Lynch.
Both points of view have merit though neither is germane to the Lynch nomination -- or necessarily apt in this particular piece of legislation. We are, after all, talking sex trafficking of mostly women and children, some of whom may have become pregnant in the process. Given most Republicans are willing to grant exceptions to their anti-abortion stance for victims of rape or incest (the language for which is included in the Hyde Amendment), I’m not sure what either Republicans or Democrats are worried about. With or without the Hyde language, a sex slave is going to get what she needs medically.
Meanwhile, what does it profit the GOP to tie the confirmation of Lynch -- who would be the first African-American female attorney general -- to legislation which needn’t be controversial?
Answer: It doesn’t. Lynch has been waiting in the wings now for longer than any other attorney general nominee in U.S. history. Republicans, principled or not, have merely opened themselves up to challenges of racism and even sexism.
Clamoring to this low branch is grackle du jour Sen. Dick Durbin, whose hyperbole is exceeded only by his wearying lack of originality. Republicans, he cawed, are forcing Lynch to “sit in the back of the bus.”
The “bus”? Really? The back burner, perhaps, but the Lynch debate hardly centers on race relations in America. Now if we were talking about coffee…
Durbin has earned ample criticism for his remark, but the double standard deserves a fresh airing. To wit, or tu-whoo, if I am to sustain this now-burdensome bird metaphor, Durbin’s vote against Condoleezza Rice for secretary of state 10 years ago. Was he being racist?
Finally, we arrive at the fourth moving part -- immigration. All but four Republican senators thus far say they won’t confirm Lynch because of her kinda, sorta, roundabout cautious embrace of Obama’s executive actions on immigration as at least “reasonable.”
At least these objections are based somewhat on concerns about legal reasoning, but are they smart? One of the GOP’s persistent flaws is picking the wrong battles -- and this seems yet another.
As a matter of record, nearly every president in the past 50 years has taken some executive action on immigration. More to the core of the problem, Republicans could have pre-empted the president’s action with a comprehensive reform bill. Instead, they’ve taken a piecemeal approach, first by threatening to shut down Homeland Security (brilliant!) and now trying to block access to Earned Income Tax Credit for immigrants affected by Obama’s executive action.
The quid for their quo isn’t applause but fresh nourishment for three familiar narratives: Republicans wage war on women; Republicans are racists; Republicans don’t like Latinos. It doesn’t matter if these are false, just as are right-wing taunts Obama is a Muslim who hates America.
It only matters for the narratives to survive through this election cycle. In the game of branding and perception, truth sits in the back of a bus called Narrative, steered by a wacko bird called Twitter. And Republicans seem to get off on the wrong stop every time.