Last week’s Republican debate, which resembled a circus act, was excruciating to watch. However, the reality of the political arena is even more frightening.
While last Thursday’s Republican debate focused on the question of “whose is biggest?” and Donald Trump continues to make the front pages of all the newspapers, and while we are terrified by the salutes and violent acts of his crowds that we are witnessing on our screens, elected Republican officials, both in the Senate and at state level, are sabotaging institutions. As such, the protests of Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, about Republican senators’ refusal to vote on or even to consider President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, are significant.
As Elizabeth Warren highlighted, “The message from Senate Republicans is crystal clear: forget the Constitution. Their response to one of the most solemn and consequential tasks that our government performs, the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice, will be to pretend that that nominee and President Obama himself simply do not exist.” This has never happened before in the chamber. In this instance, Warren was responding to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who claimed that accepting the nominee of a lame duck president would be tantamount to trampling on the Constitution. In the U.S., the term “lame duck” is used to describe an elected official whose term is coming to an end, specifically one whose successor has already been elected but has not yet taken up office. Of course, this is not the case for President Obama, who will still be the legitimately elected president until November 2016 and will be in office until January 2017. The Republican Senate is scorning the incumbent president and thereby showing contempt for institutions.
At the state level, the reality is even more disturbing: elected Republicans are insidiously passing extremist bills that mainly affect women, minorities and the poor. Taking advantage of people’s attention being focused on the primaries, they can slip a number of bills through without attracting media attention and without anyone getting worked up about them.
Last week, Florida passed a bill that significantly removed access to abortion and contraception by reducing funding for clinics and adding to the list of restrictions, thus depriving women of access to affordable care. The removal of funding and attacks on clinics like Planned Parenthood are also happening in Missouri, Virginia and Arizona. The Florida bill is based on the same principles as the Texas bill that is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court. After Florida, we now turn to Indiana, a state that has drafted an absurd new bill which will force women to continue their pregnancy to term, even in cases where doctors have diagnosed a fetal anomaly. As noted by Republican Sen. Sean Eberhard, who voted against the bill on the advice of his wife: “Today is a perfect example of a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting in this room making decisions about what we think is best for women.”
These bills are evidence of the obsession some Republicans have with punishing women who have sex for reasons other than reproduction. And some of them take this obsession even further. Oklahoma Sen. Nathan Dahm is trying to pass a bill that would revoke the license of any doctor who performs an abortion. His colleague, Joseph Silk, defended a bill that would see anyone who “committed” an abortion charged with murder. In Iowa, Sen. Chapman is campaigning to have abortion classed as a hate crime. As for minorities, the Wisconsin Assembly submitted a draft bill to impose financial sanctions on local governments that try to prevent the police from harassing individuals about their immigration status.
Furthermore, Iowa legislators are considering a draft bill that would extend the right to bear arms to children under the age of 14, and Arizona is trying to pass a law prohibiting authorities from applying any laws, decrees or Federal Court decisions that aim to reduce access to weapons.
Fortunately, these recent proposals have not yet been voted on, and they will undoubtedly be rejected during the legislative process. However, they are proof of the contempt held by elected Republican officials against institutions and the great democratic principles of America.
This morning, President Obama confirmed the nomination of Merrick Garland to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. In doing so, he reaffirmed his authority, saying, “As president, it is both my constitutional duty to nominate a justice and one of the most important decisions that I – or any president – will make.” The Republicans had better watch out. For now, the cat is back and the mice have abandoned their game. Let’s just hope the Republican Party won’t be calling the shots next November.