Trump and McConnell Did Something Semi-Sane. It Wasn’t Nuts Enough for Senate Republicans

Even on the least controversial nominations, the votes remain completely partisan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has earned a reputation for efficiently pushing through the Trump administration’s nominations, despite often vociferous opposition from the Democrats. This week, however, he moved through two Trump nominees who had more support from the minority party than from his own. The two votes are illustrative of the sorry state of bipartisanship in our nation’s capital.

In the summer of 1991, John Charles Hinderaker was a junior lifeguard instructor for the Parks & Recreation Department in Santa Barbara, California. He’d later work as an errand runner, a busboy, a warehouse laborer, a substitute teacher and a car salesman at a Nissan dealership. As of September 23, he’s a confirmed judge, awaiting his commission on the U.S. District of Arizona. It’s a reminder that hard work can pay off, but Hinderaker’s case is interesting for another reason: he’s a Democrat.

Born in 1968, Hinderaker graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 1991 and the University of Arizona College of Law in 1996. He clerked for two Arizona District Court judges before going into private practice. In 2018, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him to the Pima County Superior Court.

In May 2019, shortly after a Judge Rader Collins took senior status on the District of Arizona Court, Hinderaker was approached by staffers for U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). They were looking for someone to recommend to President Trump to fill the vacancy.

Sen. Sinema had some credibility with the Trump administration, particularly after she took heated criticism for signing off on the nomination of Michael Liburdi, a former general counsel to Gov. Ducey known for his legal challenge to Arizona’s independent redistricting commission and his controversial work with Protect the Vote AZ.

As Matthew Brown of Deseret News reports, the Protect the Vote campaign in Arizona is aimed at reducing turnout among Native Americans and Latinos.

The Republican National Committee launched its Protect the Vote campaign…to counter efforts by the Democratic Party to expand vote by mail, ballot collecting and other measures that would make voting more accessible…

… [Ballot collecting] has a cultural component among the Native American voters who approach voting as a community effort. “There’s a lot of distrust among the indigenous people toward government,” said Democratic state Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, of Tucson and a member of Pasqua Yaqui Tribe. But “people trust their neighbors, their family members, to help them mail or turn in their ballot” if they can’t do it themselves.

Over the years, thousands of ballots have been collected by volunteers in Latino and Native American communities and delivered to voting locations as it became an effective get-out-the-vote strategy for Democrats. which eventually caught the attention of GOP lawmakers, like state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who sponsored HB2023, restricting and criminalizing the practice.

Despite his voter suppression actions, Liburdi was confirmed in July 2019, in a 53-37 vote, with only Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Doug Jones of Alabama joining Sinema in support.

Armed with this good will, Sinema successfully lobbied President Trump to nominate Hinderaker. It probably helped that Hinderaker had made political contributions to candidates for both parties and was appointed to the Pima County court by Gov. Ducey, which gave him some bipartisan credibility.

Nonetheless, when the roll call on his confirmation was held in the U.S. Senate, 25 Republicans voted against him.

Jocelyn Frances Samuels received degrees from Middlebury College (1977) and Columbia University Law School (1982) before serving as labor counsel to former Sen. Edward Kennedy. During the Obama administration, she served as director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health & Human Services and as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice. She’s now executive director of The Williams Institute at UCLA, a think tank that “conducts independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy.”

On September 23, Samuels was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to a Democrat-reserved seat on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is a five-member body responsible for enforcing laws on hiring discrimination and sexual harassment. With the confirmation of Samuels, it is fully staffed for the first time in the Trump administration.

According to Bloomberg Law, the Senate Democrats sent Samuels’ name to the White House in December 2019, but they dragged their feet on nominating her to the Commission.

Minority-party seats on the EEOC have traditionally been run through Democratic Senate leadership before being announced by the White House. The sources familiar with that process said all that remains is for the White House to make an announcement, but the timeline was not immediately clear…

The delay wasn’t solely intended to keep the EEOC understaffed and ineffective.

Samuels’ background as an LGBT rights advocate could create hurdles to confirmation in the Republican-majority Senate. Former EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum was nominated for a third term with the agency when a small group of Republican lawmakers led by Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah) blocked her nomination, citing concerns about Feldblum’s ability to balance religious freedom and LGBT rights. Feldblum in January decided to not pursue another term.

The Senate HELP committee didn’t receive her nomination until March 16, 2020, and ultimately only eight Republican senators supported her confirmation. As expected, Sens. Rubio and Lee voted against her.

It shouldn’t be so hard to get consensus in the Senate.  Hinderaker was chosen as a judge by both a Republican governor and, in a rare gesture at bipartisanism, a Republican president. Yet, Senate Republicans were still split 27-25 on his nomination, with opponents objecting simply because Hinderaker is known as a Democrat and was suggested by a Democratic colleague.

Meanwhile, the EEOC seat was reserved for the minority, so opposing Samuel’s nomination served little purpose other than signaling opposition to gay rights. Forty-two of fifty voting Republican senators opposed her nomination, despite her clear qualifications for the position.

Even on the rare occasions when Trump and McConnell do something semi-normal that the Democrats can support, rank-and-file Republicans can’t abide it. As long as this kind of reflexive partisanship remains the norm, consensus in Washington will remain elusive.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com