WASHINGTON — Throughout every fight, even the ugliest ones, Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate regularly like to tout their strong personal relationships forged across party lines.
But as lawmakers are at each other’s throats over the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, some fear that things are taking a turn for the worse on Capitol Hill.
Democrats and Republicans have erupted at one another during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, culminating in Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina lambasting Democrats last Thursday for what he described as a smear campaign against the nominee.
Graham accused Democrats of stalling and doing anything they possibly could to keep the Supreme Court seat vacant in case they retake the White House in 2020.
“Boy, you all want power,” he said during last Thursday’s hearing. “God, I hope you never get it.”
And each morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have lobbed not-so-veiled shots at each other from across the Senate floor.
During a floor speech on Wednesday morning, McConnell tore into Democrats, saying they were going after Kavanaugh and lending credence to any and all accusations, even those that many lawmakers have dismissed as not as credible.
“It’s time to put this embarrassing spectacle behind us,” he said. “The American people are sick of the display that’s been put on here in the United States Senate in the guise of a confirmation process.”
Schumer followed McConnell’s speech, nearly calling him a liar when discussing responsibility for the delayed voting process.
“He’s to blame for the delay, but he couldn’t do anything otherwise because his own Republicans insisted on it,” Schumer said. “Again, it is a blatant falsehood — I’m so tempted to use the L-word, but he’s my friend — to say that Democrats caused the delay. Mr. Leader, assert your power to determine what’s put on the floor, and be a man. Man up and say it’s your decision, not ours. We have nothing to do with it.”
Senators differ on what kind of lasting damage the animosity could have
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, the Democrat who paired with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona to strike a deal to avoid holding a confirmation vote until after an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh, said on Tuesday that he was “concerned” about damage to key bipartisan relationships.
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve been trying to conduct myself in a measured and respectful way with my colleagues,” he said. “Because the amount of passion and even anger and process that led to the hearing last Thursday and the markup last Friday, it’s really led to some of the sharpest exchanges I’ve ever heard as a senator.”
Coons also admonished the increasing animosity during a question-and-answer session at the Atlantic Festival in Washington.
“We are an exceptional nation, and we are at risk of losing it all through a populist mob mentality where no one can win because everyone must lose,” he said.
The constant fighting is not as bad for peer-to-peer relationships as it is for processes, said Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“The problem is less with relationships — like I said, those are resilient — than it is with process,” he said. “I think when there are process failures, that’s a lasting problem.”
Others, like Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, think they just need time to heal. He told Business Insider that most lawmakers reverted back to their friendly selves “after about 60 days.”
“I remember when the nuclear option happened in, like, 2013, and it was worse than this,” said Corker, who’s set to retire later this year.
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told Business Insider that lawmakers understood the need to get over tense moments. But he said real damage had been done.
“I was a whip in the House for a long time, and my view always was no matter how disappointed you were, you might need the person you were most disappointed in tomorrow,” he said. “And I do think there’s some short-term damage, and I think we will benefit from being out of here for some days at least between now and the election.”
“I’m sure we’ll get over it,” he added. “But it was not a helpful thing the way this has been handled.”