Oh swell. The Republican Senate’s so-called “moderates,” who combine big talk with little action and fuse noble rhetoric with hapless inertia, appear to be readying themselves for another year of deeming certain Trump desecrations as “unhelpful” or “unwise.”
One member of this club – which I call the Fellowship of the Furrowed Brow – spoke up earlier this week. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she’s “disturbed” that Mitch McConnell is colluding backstage with the legal team of defendant Donald Trump in advance of his Impeachment trial in the Senate.
Mainstream media outlets think this is big news. According to the New York Times, it’s “a potentially significant crack in Republican unity.” We’ll see. To me, it sounds like the Furrowed Brow Fellowship’s standard sponginess, the kind we’ve been getting for the past three years from Murkowski and Republican Senate colleagues like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Ben Sasse, Rob Portman, and Lamar Alexander.
First they mouth honeyed words, then (far more often than not) they vote with Trump and abet his abuses.
It’s nice that Murkowski is “disturbed” that McConnell has “confused” the trial process. But it would truly serve the public interest if she and her furrowed-brow brethren denounced McConnell’s goal of granting Trump a speedy exoneration. Under Senate rules, 51 senators (all 47 caucusing Democrats and a mere 4 Republicans) can set the terms of that trial.
That’s what conservative Trump critics would love to see. Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative commentator and activist, co-writing with a University of Texas academic in a right-leaning online magazine, deftly frames the issue:
“If a bipartisan group of public-spirited constitutionalists on both sides of the aisle come together, they can tell McConnell that he will only get 51 votes…if he works with them to fashion a fair process that allows for crucial documents to be compelled to be produced, and a reasonable number of witnesses to be caled … . The only way to get to that outcome is if some Senate Republicans refuse to lower themselves to be the mere agents of an unprincipled and partisan leader and instead rise to the demands of principle and statesmanship.”
“Some Senate Republicans … .” He’s referring to the Fellowship of the Furrowed Brow – which, Murkowski aside, has said very little about McConnell’s determination to rig the game for Trump. Are they terrified that Trump will tweet at them? Are they scared of the grassroots Trumpists back home? Or is it basically because their “moderate” image is overblown, given the fact that as senators they vote their party the vast majority of the time?
I’ll go with door number three. A recent vote serves as the perfect metaphor.
Back in October, McConnell nominated for a federal judgeship a 37-year-old right-winger who’d been rated “unqualified” by the nonpartisan American Bar Association. In the ABA’s words, Justin Walker “does not presently have the requisite trial or litigation experience (and) has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal.”
No matter. Every member of the Furrowed Brow Fellowship – Murkowski, Romney, Sasse, Collins – voted to put Walker on the federal bench. Just as they’ve consistently abetted Trump’s far-right takeover of the bench.
Sasse, in particular, has been verbally upset with Trump for a long time, but he has voted with Trump 86 percent of the time and voted (along with Collins and then-Furrowed Browist Jeff Flake) to put accused sexual assaulter Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.
One would think that confronting McConnell on the impeachment trial rules, and demanding witness testimony, would be easy calls.
Those are popular positions. According to the latest Morning Consult/Politico poll, Americans – by a margin of 54 to 27 percent – want the Senate to bring in additional witnesses. Independents are on board, 51 to 27 percent. Even a plurality of Republicans are on board, 43 to 38 percent. Numbers like that have apparently inspired Murkowski to deem herself “disturbed” by the prospect of a rigged exoneration.
Yes, only four Republicans are needed to ensure a real trial. But that would require them to act, so what we’re more likely to hear are various synonyms of “disturbed.” Keep your ear cocked for these potential Furrowed Brow adjectives:
Is there room on that list for infuriated or outraged? Not on their watch.
Dick Polman is a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania.