Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, blasted the paper’s editorial board for dismissing concerns about Thomas Farr, a judicial nominee with a track record of support for voter suppression schemes:
I am saddened that in the editorial “Democrats and Racial Division” (Dec. 1) you attempt to deflect the concerns regarding Thomas Farr’s nomination to the federal bench. While you are right that his nomination should be seen through a wider lens, the solution isn’t simply to decry “racial attacks.”
Scott makes a key point that should go well beyond Farr or judicial nominees: “We should stop bringing candidates with questionable track records on race before the full Senate for a vote.”
That raises a broader question: Why is the Senate bringing and confirming candidates with questionable track records — on race or otherwise — to a vote on the floor?
Consider the people brought to the floor and confirmed: judges rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association; an oil executive, Rex Tillerson, with no government experience, as secretary of state; a lawyer, Alex Acosta, whose supervision of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division was roundly criticized and who participated in the atrociously lenient plea deal for serial child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein; Ben Carson, a man utterly lacking in government experience or housing expertise, as secretary of housing and urban development; former congressman Tom Price for Health and Human Services despite his record of trading “shares worth more than $300,000 in about 40 health-related companies” while he was sitting on the House Ways and Means Committee and “working on measures that could affect his investments”; Steven Mnuchin, who had no government experience and had failed to disclose $100 million in assets, as treasury secretary; Wilbur Ross, who also lacked government experience and had been “forced to pay fines to the government several times, including as recently as August of 2016 to the SEC for failing to disclose fees his firm was charging … [and had] sat on the board of a company that agreed to pay over $2 billion in a settlement over its handling of subprime loans,” as commerce secretary; Scott Pruitt, who had repeatedly sued the Environmental Protection Agency and collaborated secretly with private industry to defeat federal regulations, as EPA administrator; and a hodgepodge of unqualified cronies for ambassadorships (a sin other administrations are guilty of as well).
Now, when Trump nominates Heather Nauert for ambassador to the United Nations — a woman who was until a year ago a Fox News personality and as a State Department spokesperson with zero experience in diplomacy — we can expect that, once more, the Republican-controlled Senate will issue its stamp of approval.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the least qualified president in history -- with a long record of bankruptcies, refusal to pay his bills and schemes such as Trump University -- should select unqualified and ethically challenged advisers and/or retain those whose ethical misdeeds and incompetence become apparent once in office. However, we cannot blame Trump alone for lousy appointments and staffing the government with unfit characters. The Constitution provides a check on the president’s ability to put shady characters in positions of power. It’s the current Republican Party that rejects that role and decides its job description is to enable Trump’s worst instincts. Just as House Republicans proved themselves incapable of fulfilling their oversight responsibilities, Senate Republicans prove themselves incapable of fulfilling their advice-and-consent duties.
The GOP would do well to heed Scott’s advice not only with regard to judges and not only with respect to race. It shouldn’t be so hard to reject unqualified nominees and those whose records suggest they’ll be poster boys for corruption in government. Moreover, if Senate Republicans started dinging just a few of the lousy nominees, the White House would get the message and be compelled to find more-qualified people. Senate Republicans would do themselves a favor (diminishing the perception they are invertebrates) and Trump a favor as well if they started saying “no” once in a while.