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The Curious Case Of Benjamin E. Sasse

In 2017, Ben Sasse chose to leave the Agriculture Committee to join the Judiciary Committee. This decision didn’t put Nebraska first since this was the first time since the Nixon Administration in which there were no Nebraska members of Congress on the Agriculture Committee in either House. (Once Deb Fischer drew a strong challenge from Jane Raybould, she joined the Agriculture Committee.)

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Sasse has been an ardent champion of Trump’s project to pack the federal court with young right wingers. For example, Sasse strongly backed the Neil Gorsuch nomination in 2017.

Sasse has recently received some national attention since the hearings have begun for Brett Kavanaugh. But all publicity isn’t good publicity. Sasse has clearly put on display his blind spots this week.

What is especially embarrassing and hypocritical is that Sasse has bemoaned the partisanship surrounding these hearings. He complained that the hearings have become an “overblown, politicized circus.”

The problem with this statement is that Sasse was complicit in the breakdown of the Supreme Court nomination process in the U.S. Senate in 2016. He supported the blockade of Merrick Garland even though Mitch McConnell had promised every judicial nominee — regardless of party — a hearing and an up or down vote. After the Garland blockade, Sasse ardently supported placing Gorsuch in the stolen seat.

Sasse appears to believe that history begins when he posts a tweet or takes the microphone. Mitch McConnell created a new paradigm when he stole the Supreme Court seat from Barack Obama in 2016. This is Mitch’s world and we are all living in it. Going back to the old rules would reward illegitimate GOP obstruction.

Nebraska’s junior Senator has also made the claim that a weak Congress has politicized the Supreme Court. What Sasse has apparently overlooked is that it was the GOP that has politicized the nation’s high court. The GOP picks activist judges to enact its unpopular, regressive agenda. It relies upon right wingers on the Supreme Court to enact policy changes that would never be passed by an elected body. Citizens United and the 2013 decision gutting the Voting Rights Act provide good examples.

Sasse’s complaint about a weak Congress is laughable since he is a member of that body and has done nothing since he was sworn in. He has introduced less legislation than most of his colleagues and he still hasn’t passed any bills. As former Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Vince Powers said: “ If only Ben Sasse could get elected to the Senate so he could do something as member of the party that controls Congress.”

The Fremont native further embarrassed himself as a U.S. Senator during the Kavanaugh hearings themselves. In response to (justifiable) claims that Kavanaugh would restrict women’s health care choices, Sasse asserted that Kavanaugh’s female opponents were being “hysterical.” There is a lengthy and misogynistic history of men calling women “hysterical” when they assert their rights.

Rising star and California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris sharply rebuked Sasse’s intemperate remarks: “I think it’s a mistake to refer to women who are using their voice to protest a flawed process, to refer to them as ‘hysterical.’ There’s a whole line of discussion and writings on how the word ‘hysteria’ has been used to refer to talk about women who own their power.”

Women (and men) have the right to be concerned about Kavanaugh’s record and views on Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh has praised Justice William Rehnquist’s dissenting opinion in Roe and has called Rehnquist “his judicial hero.”

At the hearings themselves, Kavanaugh testified under oath that Roe v. Wade is settled law. However, his sworn testimony was contradicted by a memo he wrote as a member of the Bush Administration: “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so.”

Merely testifying that Roe is settled law doesn’t really tell us how Kavanaugh would rule in the future. Currently, Roe is settled law. All Kavanaugh was doing was reciting that fact. There is nothing to prevent Kavanaugh from voting to overrule or gut Roe in the future. Several current GOP appointed Supreme Court Justices testified at their hearings that Roe was settled law and once firmly ensconced on the high court, they voted to overrule it.

Further testimony from Kavanaugh at the hearings provided even more evidence he is hostile to women making their own health care choices. The former GOP apparatchik falsely referred to contraception as “abortion-inducing drugs.” Elizabeth Warren responded to this disturbing comment when she said: “Anyone who says so is peddling extremist ideology — not science — and has no business sitting on the Supreme Court.”

Sasse has created for himself the worst of all political worlds. On the one hand, he has dutifully rubber stamped the Trump agenda and voted with him 90% of the time. This has alienated Democrats and independent voters.

On the other hand, Sasse has occasionally offered up mild criticism of Trump. These sad tweets about Trump have angered the GOP base voters. For them, it’s not enough to support the Trump agenda — Sasse also has to refrain from any criticism of the former reality TV star.

Well connected Republicans have told me that the GOP base isn’t happy with Sasse. I have also heard from reliable sources in the GOP that one or two wealthy GOP businessmen who could self finance are considering a challenge to Sasse in the 2020 GOP primary.

We are in the current predicament because too many Democrats stayed home or voted third party in both 2014 and 2016. That allowed the GOP to gain control of the Senate and the White House. The only check and balance on an out of control GOP is the Democratic Party. We all need to vote in every cycle from this point forward. We need to encourage our friends and neighbors to vote. Let’s do it! No excuses!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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