It’s Time to End Senate Confirmation Hearings

 

One of the Senate’s unique responsibilities is to “advise and consent” on nominations to senior positions in the Executive Branch, as well as every federal judgeship, from districts to the Supreme Court. It is serious business and takes a lot of time.

I would know since I’ve been a nominee subject to Senate confirmation (Federal Election Commission, 1996. It’s a long story, but I pulled the plug on my own nomination. A story for another day).

The last confirmation hearings that gripped the American public was the Brett Kavanaugh hearing in 2018 for his eventual confirmation to the US Supreme Court. I bet you remember it. Remember Christine Blasey Ford, with her last-minute, vague accusations of sexual abuse, followed by Kavanaugh’s “angry” response? And Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) weak, flaccid acquiesce to an extra week of FBI investigations, despite a clear lack of evidence of any wrongdoing, at the prodding of the well-disguised, deep partisanship of his colleague, Chris Coons (D-DE), who was clearly committed to destroying Kavanaugh’s nomination, along with his reputation? I’ll confess to being somewhat radicalized by it.

Despite a slow start due to the Senate’s 50-50 partisan split following the 2020 elections, they have done well to confirm some 20 presidential nominees to a variety of positions, almost all on a bipartisan basis, certainly much more so than President Trump’s nominees enjoyed. Credit Republicans for not lowering themselves into lock-step, purely partisan opposition to every nominee. They have long and consistently agreed that Presidents are generally entitled to their nominees, barring glaring disqualifications. Democrats during the Trump administration took a much more partisan approach. That’s simply a fact. But I digress.

There were two (three, actually, if you include the Xavier Becerra nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services) notable confirmation hearings this past week, one for Judge Merrick Garland to serve as Attorney General, and Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health. Garland would – will – be a member of the President’s cabinet. Dr. Levine will not be, but will hold one perhaps the second most powerful position at the Department of Health and Human Services. Both are very likely to be confirmed.

Here’s a good summary of Judge Garland’s confirmation hearing via Fox News:

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s attorney general nominee, repeatedly avoided providing direct answers to questions from Republican senators during Monday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Garland dodged questions about the Durham investigation into the Trump-Russia probe origins, transgender athletes in high school sports and whether crossing the border illegally should be a criminal offense.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, asked Garland whether he believes that illegally crossing the border should remain a crime.

‘I haven’t thought about that question, I just haven’t thought about that question’ Garland said. ‘The president has made clear that we are a nation with borders, with national security, I don’t know of a proposal to decriminalize but still make it unlawful to answer, I just haven’t thought about it.’

Umm, okay. So a long-serving federal appeals court judge and former federal prosecutor (he put Timothy McVey behind bars (securing the death penalty) after the 1995 Oklahoma City Murrah Building terrorist attack) cannot answer basic questions about illegal immigration. Never mind that Garland, now, is backing off his previous support for the death penalty. I get that President Biden opposes it, and he’s simply reflecting “Administration policy.” We’re all entitled to change our minds. Timothy McVeigh might wish he’d changed his mind a bit earlier (I’m glad he didn’t).

The second hearing was for my bête noire, one Dr. Rachel Levine, perhaps the most incompetent Secretary of Health to ever hold that position in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (disclosure: until January, I was a Pennsylvania resident for 18 years). It is noteworthy that the transgender child behavior psychologist held her hearing on the day that the US House was passing the Equity Act on a largely partisan vote.

No one remembers the hearing except for a line of questioning about genital mutilation of children by US Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a medical doctor (ophthalmologist by profession). Levine didn’t really answer the question, and committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) took a swipe at Paul for his line of questioning. And the media (USA Today, here) was quick – even poised – to pounce in defense of the incompetent Levine.

Serious journalisming, there. Identity politics 1, competence 0. How predictable.

As a former Senate official and staff member, I’m ready to recommend that we simply terminate Senate committee confirmation hearings. Nominees are coached on how to avoid answering questions – even at the cost of appearing ignorant and uninformed. And the fact is that the Senators’ questions are more important – to them, anyway – than the answers.

It is also a fact that the most important part of the confirmation process is the individual meetings with Senators prior to a hearing, particularly with the members of the committees of jurisdiction. In some cases, nominees avail themselves of meetings with any Senator who wants one.

The confirmation process in the Senate is pretty thorough. The results of FBI background checks are made available to Senators (and some staff), on a confidential basis. At least three years of tax returns are provided to the committee, plus additional questionnaires. Aside from one-on-one meetings, there are series of back and forth questions and answers in writing (equally opaque, vague, and unilluminating). Then, of course, there is the public record, including one’s Twitter feed (just ask Neera Tanden). That’s how far we’ve descended. In more ways than one. Twitter posts now are the gold standard – or the make or break point – for presidential nominees. Beam me up, Scotty.

Having said that, it’s time to end, with rare exception, Senate committee confirmation hearings. Other than rare misstatements and mistakes, they produce no meaningful insights or information that contribute in any significant way towards the confirmation – or rejection – of presidential nominees. For any position. They are pure theater without the benefit of actual entertainment. They lack value. They are for show. They are a complete waste of time and rarely, if ever, influence any Senator’s vote, or public opinion.

Let’s be real. In most confirmation hearings, each Senator gets about five minutes of time to ask questions or pontificate (often the latter). They might get a second or third round. Ask any lawyer who has done depositions – how in the world do you develop a line of questions with answers of any value in five minutes? It’s an easy system to game if you’re the nominee.

The Senate could fix this, of course, by letting their lead counsels take the full time apportioned to Senators – say, 30 minutes or more – for serious questions devoid of theater. Of course, that will never happen.

The Senate can well perform its “advise and consent” role in all other ways. Carefully reviewing background checks. Individual one-on-one sessions with US Senators and key staff. But seriously, unless they’re willing to make major changes, dump the confirmation hearings. There are better, more education and more enlightening shows to watch.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Kelly D Johnston:

    There are better, more education and more enlightening shows to watch.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Another old favorite:

     

    • #2
  3. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Percival (View Comment):

    Another old favorite:

     

    Who is your cable provider?  I think I might be interested in signing up…

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I’m not sure getting rid of the hearings would improve the deliberations. The slop promulgated by USA Today that you cited would be one of the only sources of information as to the problems a nominee might face.

    • #4
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    I disagree.  The Senate Republicans should be opposing every single “identity politics” nominee unanimously, across the board.  They should make Kamala Harris break every single tie, so the Democrats own all their nominees.  Levine, especially.  Republicans have been way too nice to the party that is trying to destroy America, and they should not be participating in that destruction.

    • #5
  6. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Percival (View Comment):

    Kelly D Johnston:

    There are better, more education and more enlightening shows to watch.

    Could anyone out there in Ricochet-land tell us what all the lines and numbers in the test pattern mean? I could guess that the lines are there to show distortions of various kinds, but the numbers? @ejhill@garymcvey  ?

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Wikipedia has it.

    • #7
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Garland’s testimony during his hearing was, to me anyway, the definition of “pathetic.”

    Good to know, though, that anything you do at night cannot be labeled as terrorism.

    • #8
  9. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Illegal immigration has been probably the single most contentious issue in the country for the last ten years.  There is not a single person in the country who does not have an opinion about it. Except apparently this dude.

    The people asking him questions are the people who make laws. It’s their job. They debate bills, then have a vote, then a law is passed. They don’t do all this so the laws will then be ignored.

    This guy is running for the job of enforcing those laws. When a lawmaker asks him, point blank, if he will in fact enforce a particular law that they all passed, his answer is that he doesn’t know enough about the situation?? What?

    If I were one of the lawmakers, I’d say we were done here.

    • #9
  10. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I disagree. The Senate Republicans should be opposing every single “identity politics” nominee unanimously, across the board. They should make Kamala Harris break every single tie, so the Democrats own all their nominees. Levine, especially. Republicans have been way too nice to the party that is trying to destroy America, and they should not be participating in that destruction.

    You can oppose without holding pointless hearings.

    • #10
  11. EDISONPARKS Member
    EDISONPARKS
    @user_54742

    Since the MSM is a wholly owned subsidiary of the (D) Party, the Senate confirmation process will always exist for the PR purpose of torpedoing (R) nominees on a national made for television stage.

    And even when the torpedo misses and the (R) gets confirmed,  the (D) fundraising take as a result of a well choreographed (D) Senate confirmation circus is invaluable to the (D) Party as well as the value of riling up the devout true believing voters on the Left.

    So, yes the OP is a great idea …. which will never happen.

    • #11
  12. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I disagree. The Senate Republicans should be opposing every single “identity politics” nominee unanimously, across the board. They should make Kamala Harris break every single tie, so the Democrats own all their nominees. Levine, especially. Republicans have been way too nice to the party that is trying to destroy America, and they should not be participating in that destruction.

    I sent an email to Senator Paul just this morning, thanking him for pressing the questioning of that mentally ill & incompetent “Dr. Levine”. 

    Has he been confirmed yet? How many Republicans do you think will vote to confirm?

    • #12
  13. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Garland’s testimony during his hearing was, to me anyway, the definition of “pathetic.”

    Good to know, though, that anything you do at night cannot be labeled as terrorism.

    Both Garland & Levine (and I suspect this Becerra guy) are unacceptable. There should be zero Republicans voting to confirm these people.

    • #13
  14. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Keep the hearings, get rid of the cameras.

    There is no such thing as “reality television” when the participants know the little red light is on. It changes the discourse. 

    • #14
  15. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Since confirmation hearings and senate approval is just a method for the Democrats to destroy Republican appointees, I doubt the Democrats will want them to go away.  They are just too useful to them.  Now maybe they can put a law in that they are only applied against GOP appointees and the Democrats will not even get the little bit of a pressure they currently do.  They might agree to that. 

    • #15
  16. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I disagree. The Senate Republicans should be opposing every single “identity politics” nominee unanimously, across the board. They should make Kamala Harris break every single tie, so the Democrats own all their nominees. Levine, especially. Republicans have been way too nice to the party that is trying to destroy America, and they should not be participating in that destruction.

    You can oppose without holding pointless hearings.

    See paragraph 4 above, where the author praises the Senate for confirming over 20 nominees from the Regime.  They should be confirming zero nominees from those who are destroying America.

    • #16
  17. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Dr Rachel Levine.

    An ugly guy, even worse-looking than me, in a poorly coiffed wig.

    Has he no shame?

    What have we come to?  Why isn’t this incompetent hack laughed out of the house?

    • #17
  18. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I think confirmation hearings provide a truly valuable service in that they help us for opinions regarding which senators are partisan hacks and which have gone completely over to [redact]-hood. 

    • #18
  19. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    When I look at these nominees I don’t know whether I should sink into total dispair of simply laugh my behind off. Rachel Levine is something out of central casting!

    • #19
  20. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge
    Fake John/Jane Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Dr Rachel Levine.

    An ugly guy, even worse-looking than me, in a poorly coiffed wig.

    Has he no shame?

    What have we come to? Why isn’t this incompetent hack laughed out of the house?

    Incompetent hack?  He is what the country voted for, what they desire, the best of the best.  The standard that doctors and government is measured by.

    • #20