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Jackson, COVID and a retreat show the partisan path of Congress


WASHINGTON — A landmark confirmation from the Supreme Court that suffered a flawed process. The collapse of a bipartisan compromise for more pandemic funds. The departure of a stalwart of the fading gang of House Moderate Republicans.

Party-line battles on Capitol Hill are as old as the republic, and they steadily escalate as elections approach. Yet three events from a remarkable week illustrate how the short- and long-term trajectories of Congress point to heightened partisanship.

THE BATTLE FROM THE SENATE TO THE SUPREME COURT

Democrats rejoiced Thursday when the Senate, by a vote of 53 to 47, confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black female judge. They rejoiced in a bipartisan stamp of approval from the trio of Republicans who backed him: Sens. Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska and Mitt Romney from Utah.

Yet by historical standards, the votes of the three opposition parties were paltry and underscored the recent trend of Supreme Court confirmations to become tests of loyalty to party ideology. That’s a departure from a decades-old norm where senators might not like a candidate’s judicial philosophy but defer to the president’s pick, barring a disqualifying revelation.

Murkowski said his support for Jackson was partly “rejection of the corrosive politicization” of how both sides view Supreme Court nominations, which “gets worse and detached from reality with each passing year.” “.

Republicans said they would treat Jackson with respect, and many did. Their questions and criticisms of him were pointed and partisan, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying “the Senate sees itself as a co-partner in this process” with the president.

Still, some potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates appeared to be using Jackson’s confirmation to court hard-right support. The senses. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., falsely accused her of being unusually lenient toward child porn offenders. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., suggested she might have defended the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said some Republicans “have gone too far, as far as I’m concerned, to the extreme,” reflecting “the reality of politics on Capitol Hill.” . Cotton was “fundamentally unfair, but that’s its tradition,” Durbin said.

PAST SUPREME COURT BATTLES

There were fierce battles. Democrats blocked the nomination of conservative Robert Bork in 1987 and unsuccessfully opposed the rise of Clarence Thomas in 1991 after he was accused of sexual harassment.

The rancor intensified in early 2016. McConnell, then the majority leader, prevented the Senate from even considering President Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland to replace the late Scalia. McConnell cited the next presidential election nearly nine months away, infuriating Democrats.

Donald Trump was elected and eventually filled three vacancies in the face of near-unanimous Democratic opposition.

THE FIGHT AGAINST COVID SPENDING, TRANSFORMED

Senators from both parties agreed Monday to a $10 billion COVID-19 package that President Joe Biden wants for more therapies, vaccines and tests. With BA.2, the new omicron variant, washing across the country, it seemed on the verge of being approved by Congress.

Hours later, negotiators led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, appeared caught off guard when their compromise went off the rails. Republicans wanted to add an extension to an expiring crackdown on migrants crossing the Mexican border that Trump imposed in 2020, citing the pandemic’s public health threat.

Many Republicans were skeptical that more COVID-19 money was needed. But their demand for an immigration amendment has turned a fight over how much to spend on a disease that has killed 980,000 Americans into a battle over border security, tailor-made for upcoming GOP political campaigns.

Immigration is dividing Democrats and Republicans believe the issue may further bolster their chances of winning control of Congress in the November election. Playing defense, Schumer postponed debate on the COVID-19 bill.

The Democrats deserved blame for being outmaneuvered. House Democrats rejected a $15 billion deal in March, dismissing compromise budget savings to pay for it.

And in obviously deaf political timing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week, just as negotiators were finalizing their latest compromise, that Trump-era immigration restrictions would expire on May 23.

It gave Republicans an irresistible political gift to pursue.

A MODERATE’S FAREWELL

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., announced his retirement Tuesday. He is the fourth of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last year to say they will not seek re-election.

Upton attributed his departure to running in a new district, but that didn’t stop Trump from proclaiming, “UPTON QUITS!” 4 down and 6 to go. The House impeached Trump for inciting supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but the GOP-led Senate acquitted him.

Now in his 18th term, Upton’s departure subtracts another moderate from a GOP that has shifted to the right in recent years, especially when it comes to showing loyalty to Trump.

The pro-business Upton, 68, has been a driving force on legislation spurring pharmaceutical development and has worked with Democrats on legislation affecting energy and the auto industry. His work across the aisle and his affability have put him in the ever-shrinking group of Republicans who are drawing praise from Democrats.

“For him, bipartisan and compromise are not off-limits words,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

PARTY DIFFERENCES, BEFORE AND NOW

Pitched battles are now common over bills funding federal agencies and expanding the government’s borrowing power. When those disputes are resolved and federal shutdowns and defaults are averted, lawmakers hail as triumphs what is their most rudimentary job — keeping government functioning.

Despite divisions over COVID-19 money and Jackson, there has also been cooperation.

Congress on Thursday voted by an overwhelming majority to ban Russian oil and to downgrade trade relations with that country following its invasion of Ukraine. There are advances in bipartisan trade and technology legislation, and a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure became law last year.

ABC News

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