Grassley Should Resist the Trumpian Trash-Tweets
Buried beneath the Thanksgiving holiday, Black Friday deals and the White House’s stealthy dump of a cataclysmic report on climate change last week was something just as disheartening as the chief justice of the Supreme Court rebuking a president and that president lashing back. It was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman striking back at the chief justice too, with false facts in a petty tweet, shelving his dignity in service of Trump-splaining.
That would be Sen. Chuck Grassley, who this month will step down from leading one of the most powerful and revered committees in Congress to chair the Finance Committee, one of the most powerful and revered committees in Congress. While punky tweets are now in vogue among the over-80 set in the Senate -- check out Orrin Hatch’s posts -- Grassley’s descent into sorry Whataboutism at John Roberts’ expense was shameful:
“Chief Justice Roberts rebuked Trump for a comment he made abt a judge’s decision on asylum I don't recall the Chief attacking Obama when that prez rebuked Alito during a State of the Union.”
To start with, it’s not true. President Obama -- inappropriately -- criticized the Citizens United ruling during the State of the Union without naming one justice, and Samuel Alito inappropriately mouthed “not true” from the front row. But the 44th president did not attack any individual judges. So the question for the 85-year-old-senator now is: Is he lying or is he out of it? No correction tweet has been issued.
Surely a Judiciary chairman doesn’t want to politicize the judiciary or spread falsehoods or denigrate the separation of powers. Surely he is aware that Presidential Apologist is not his job -- oversight of the judiciary and the confirmation of the best possible judges and protecting the rule of law are supposed to be the focus of his work. And others who respect, and revere, the gift of our Founders -- liberty protected by checks and balances produced by three separate and co-equal branches -- share Roberts’ commitment to an independent judiciary.
The chief justice’s statement, an extraordinarily rare act, was prompted by Trump lashing out at “an Obama judge” who had ruled against his asylum restrictions. It read: “We do not have Obama judges, or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
It could be that Trump railing against judges -- saying one was incapable of being impartial because he is “Mexican” or calling another a “so-called judge” -- is not a problem for Grassley. These characterizations, and the politicization of the judiciary, have alarmed legal experts and led to the formation of a new group calling itself Checks and Balances, started by George Conway and other prominent conservative attorneys who believe that Trump’s presidency is a threat to the rule of law. But if Grassley has no problem with the undermining of the judiciary, he shouldn’t have been chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Since Trump must have the final word, he tweeted back at Roberts on Thanksgiving eve in a tweet deriding the “dangerous” Ninth Circuit Court. Grassley wasn’t taking aim at the Ninth Circuit, he was sticking up for Trump’s attacks on a judge because Grassley thinks Obama attacked Alito, even though he didn’t. It’s worse than just another example of congressional Republicans frantically backing up President Trump no matter how deep a hole he screams or tweets into.
Republicans have grown new stiff spines over the administration's efforts to help the Saudi Kingdom cover up the crown prince's role in the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi, advancing a resolution to cut U.S. military involvement in Yemen and criticizing the White House’s decision to keep CIA Director Gina Haspel from joining Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at an all-Senate briefing Wednesday on the topic. Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the Chief Trump-splainers, even declared Wednesday he switched his vote on the Yemen resolution because the briefing was mishandled, saying, “I changed my mind because I'm pissed.”
President Trump has never been challenged by his own party, in this way, on anything to date. And yet while safeguarding human rights and standing up to a regime that murders and lies repeatedly are worthy goals, it would seem the preservation of our system of governance should be a priority for a few more senators other than Jeff Flake, who retires next month. The outgoing and incoming chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee come to mind.
For a while, Grassley was one of those few independent voices -- no matter how much the president berated Jess Sessions, the longtime Iowa senator made it clear there was no room on his committee’s calendar for the confirmation of a new attorney general. That firm stance softened, however, when the two parted ways on criminal justice reform. After Sessions opposed efforts to pass the bill, Grassley said, “With all that I have done to help Sessions, to keep the president from firing him, I think Sessions ought to stay out of it.” The appointment as acting attorney general of Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff whom the White House foisted on the embattled attorney general and who has criticized the Mueller probe, has made many GOP senators uncomfortable. Sen. Jim Lankford said on CNN Tuesday that a permanent replacement should have already been named: “It was no grand surprise the president wasn’t favorable towards Jeff Sessions. They should have been well-prepared for that transition, that when Jeff Sessions left and was asked to resign they would have someone in place.”
Grassley has not pushed for the protection of Robert Mueller’s investigation and has joined Graham in an overt lack of concern over Whitaker’s role as a potential DOJ mole for Trump and/or saboteur of the investigation.
What Grassley should be doing, as his tenure on the committee ends, is pressing the administration for a new attorney general. And should Trump blast any more judges before Grassley leaves Judiciary for the Finance Committee in January, he should stay quiet or defend the independence of the court and the integrity of our constitutional democracy. Grassley should do his job.