Senate races show where power lies


By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

President Donald Trump seemingly couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted the two Republican Senate contenders in Georgia to win their seats or not.

He badmouthed the Republican governor. He took a shot at one of the Senate contenders as not the best pick, since he didn’t pick her.

He railed that because he couldn’t get Republican state officials to play along with him and scrap the vote and declare him the winner of the Georgia election, then GOP voters should boycott the Senate contest. Then he deftly pivoted in a disjointed rally in Georgia for the Republican Senate candidates and took it all back.

Like everyone else, Trump knows the Republican’s control of the Senate rides in grabbing the two Georgia seats that will be decided Jan. 5. Republican leaders for their part have ignored Trump’s bluster and bet the bank on winning big in Georgia.

Money is no object. The Republican Party will spend whatever it takes, and the party has flooded the state with armies of GOP polling experts, volunteers and party workers.

The Georgia election battle underscores why the Senate, not the House of Representatives, or even the White House, is the real power seat in American politics.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the de facto shadow boss of American government. He heads a Senate that’s been carefully and deliberately crafted as a firewall against a Democratic president.

It’s a GOP-controlled Senate in which its majority leadership can repeatedly delay, obstruct, gut and torpedo initiatives and legislation of a Democratic president from the budget to appointments at nearly all levels.

The Founding Fathers were scared stiff of the prospect of government being run by “the mob.” The mob defined as the supposed unwashed, unvarnished and ill-informed public. It would be government run amok.

The Senate was the ultimate check on that. The Senate is the ultimate in an elite, upper crust gentleman’s political body.

Senators get six-year terms. In the early years they were the landed and propertied gentry. As an added safeguard, they were chosen not by direct vote, but by state legislatures.

Though that changed in 1924, it still took lots of money, connections and the party bosses’ imprimatur to have a shot at a seat.

The Senate is loaded with a labyrinth of arcane procedures and rules. That ensures that only the most moderate, finely honed and compromised legislation is passed. The Senate’s dominance doesn’t end with fine-tuned legislation, but appointments and confirmations.

It is the sole determiner of who sits on the U.S. Supreme Court, the lower federal court benches and who bags key spots in federal agencies. These are all top-grade posts that initiate, make, and implement crucial policy decisions after many congresspersons are long gone.

The Senate majority leader has virtually dictatorial control over which of the president’s nominees are put to a confirmation vote.

The devastating result of that power was on full brute and naked display during the Obama administration with the dozens of judicial and agency posts that were endlessly delayed, or outright sabotaged by the Republican-controlled Senate from Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the absolute refusal of McConnell to consider any Supreme Court nominee who Barack Obama proposed to replace Antonio Scalia.

The way McConnell blocked Merrick Garland’s path to the bench was a textbook example of how he controls the Senate’s power to say no to a president and make it stick.

McConnell will use the same template with President Joe Biden. In fact, he already has.

He’s already dropped strong hints that some of Biden’s early picks are questionable. Again, that means they’re too liberal for his taste. The warning is clear: drop them, or else. The or else is the real threat that they won’t be confirmed.

McConnell and GOP Senate leaders understand this little shell game can be played by two. When Harry Reid, the senator from Nevada, became Senate majority leader in January 2007, he played hard ball with several of then President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees and delayed hearings.

A Democratic Senate majority leader would completely change the game in Washington. Everything from Biden’s cabinet, agency, and judicial picks would sail through. Everything in Biden’s agenda from expanding the Affordable Health Care Act to comprehensive immigration reform would have a real shot at passage.

So, Trump’s initial talk about blowing off a Georgia vote, and calling Georgia’s top GOP officials names was like much else with Trump, pure gas bag hot air. McConnell and the GOP know this.

They know that the Senate is the real name of the game, and they intend to do any and everything to keep the game in their hands.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “What’s Right and Wrong with The Electoral College” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles.