BY ART CULLEN
Sen. Chuck Grassley’s demise as an honest broker and maverick started around 2010 and culminated last week in votes to end the filibuster on judicial nominations and approve Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. Grassley conspired with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a sheer power play intended to deny the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.
McConnell swore from the first days that he would make certain Obama’s presidency failed. Grassley was his right-hand man chairing the Judiciary Committee. When Justice Antonin Scalia died, Obama nominated Merrick Garland, an esteemed appellate judge who had won unanimous confirmation from the Senate when he was elevated to the appeals bench. Grassley refused Garland a hearing. He and McConnell declared they would not consider an Obama nominee in his final year in office.
It was an offense to the Constitution. It was an offense to civility. It was cynical.
But that’s politics. We thought Grassley could rise above it.
He began his decline during the writing of the Affordable Care Act, when he misled constituents and cowered before the misinformed. He and Sen. Max Baucus, who were running the Senate Finance Committee, wrote in the poison pills that doomed state health cooperatives and the individual insurance marketplace. He scared people by making them think that grandma could be euthanized by the federal government.
Grassley was all about conspiring to hold onto power and get the chairmanship of Judiciary.
The seeds of that malignancy are bearing fruit.
So will his sowing of discord in the Senate.
The filibuster is nothing sacred. But it was a practical device to moderate the majority so it could not run roughshod over democracy as Grassley did in shunning Garland. Grassley and McConnell would not allow a Senate vote on a Presidential supreme court nomination. They directly offended the Constitution that prescribes the Senate’s advice and consent role. They should have let the Senate vote Garland down — using the filibuster if necessary. That would have been fair.
To abort the process is contemptible.
Democrats, understandably, vowed to filibuster Gorsuch. He, too, is well respected as an appellate judge. They wanted payback and rounded up enough votes so the Senate couldn’t get to 60 “yes” votes. McConnell then triggered the “nuclear option” that blew up the filibuster for judicial nominations.
Democrats blew up the filibuster for other federal nominations a few years back. The filibuster came into use around 1830 and was invoked frequently as the USA ground toward World War I. President Woodrow Wilson needed the filibuster to corral 12 anti-war senators. It can be undone by simple majority votes. Senators say they will preserve the legislative filibuster, until they want to pass a tax cut.
The filibuster isn’t so important to us as the process that saw Grassley barely acknowledge Garland. It was rude in a way that Iowans aren’t. It disrespected the Office of the President. It denied the supreme court a full bench for more than a year. It is plausible that Gorsuch will be no more conservative than Garland, who certainly was no Thurgood Marshall.
What little respect we had for Grassley as a politician of some honor vanished the way he treated President Obama and Judge Garland. He deserves how history will remember him and his role as a lapdog for the Senator from Kentucky.
Making bridge progress
We were delighted to see that County Road M50 from Hwy. 7 to Nemaha is closed to through traffic for bridge replacements. BV County Engineer Brett Wilkinson last week noted that eight bridges or culverts will be replaced this season on M50 and C49, two of the busiest blacktops in the county. Next year, those county roads will be rebuilt as Wilkinson notes they are about the worst to drive on.
We have talked about structurally deficient bridges for decades but have not done a whole lot about them. Wilkinson is making real progress. Credit goes to him and the Board of Supervisors for steady improvements in county roads.
The engineer explains that the road repavings would not be possible were it not for the increase in the fuel tax two years ago. The local option sales tax and the increased fuel tax should allow the county to make real progress on dangerous bridges with or without a massive federal infrastructure push that, again, has been talked about for decades.
The public will appreciate the efforts of the supervisors and Wilkinson to improve our secondary road system despite the detours.