Both-Siderism Argument Doesn’t Work for Trump’s Extremist Nominees

Burgess Everett and Elana Schor at Politico engage in something I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about as Donald Trump’s nominees are considered for Senate approval. They basically engage in both-siderism by comparing Republican obstruction during the Obama years to the Democrat’s plans. In doing so, they overlook two very big differences.

The main comparison Everett and Schor make is to the way Republicans obstructed the nomination of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court. Let’s remember what happened there. Initially, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to rally his troops against even meeting with Judge Garland. But when that failed, he held firmly to his promise that Republicans wouldn’t even grant the judge a hearing – much less a vote. Part of the reason for that is because – if Garland’s experience and qualifications were given a full airing – it would be difficult for Republicans to justify their objection to his nomination.

Democrats are suggesting exactly the opposite when it comes to Trump’s nominees. Here are some of the quotes from Democrats that Everett and Schor rounded up for their article:

“They’ve been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” fumed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.”…

“I don’t want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive.”…

“I’ve heard no conversations about the kind of obstruction that Mitch McConnell specialized in,” said another endangered Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri. “But there may be some where there are real questions about their qualifications and some of the things in their backgrounds.”

In other words, Democrats want to give these nominees a full and thorough airing rather than simply avoid having their qualifications (or lack thereof) hidden from public view.

The second error in the both-siderism argument put forward by Everett and Schor relates to the early days of the Obama administration.

Eight years ago, when the roles were reversed, with Barack Obama taking office and an all-Democratic Congress, Republicans were mostly deferential to the incoming president. On Obama’s first day in office, the Senate confirmed seven of Obama’s Cabinet nominees. By the end of that week, it had cleared more than a dozen senior-level positions, all without dissent except for Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be secretary of state, for which the GOP demanded a roll call.

Trump almost certainly won’t be receiving similar treatment.

Never mind that they began the article by pointing to Republican obstruction on the Garland nomination (or the fact that it was 166 days from the Loretta Lynch nomination to be Attorney General to when she was finally confirmed). Barack Obama didn’t nominate an Attorney General who had been rejected for a federal judgeship because of his history of racism. Nor did he nominate a Defense Secretary who violated the restrictions on the time between military service and serving in that capacity. He also didn’t nominate a woman with no training or experience in education to be Secretary of Education. Nor did he nominate someone who had been involved in the most egregious practices leading up to the Great Recession to be Treasury Secretary. In other words, the Cabinet Trump is proposing is extremist in a way that is unprecedented. As such, both the Senate and the American public need to seriously consider their capacity to harm the institutions on which so many of our citizens depend.

What Everett and Schor have done in this article is to assume that the only thing that matters in these appointments is the partisan political gamesmanship that consumes so much of the reporting of those who are part of the D.C. village. They completely ignore that experience and qualifications matter when it comes to the people who are tasked with running the federal government and the implications of nominating those who have none – or have demonstrated that they are unfit for the positions they have been offered. I can think of no better example to demonstrate the errors of both-siderism.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.