The inmates have taken over the asylum in the Republican Party. In the party that once prided itself on being pro-military, one wingnut senator is blocking the confirmation of hundreds of senior military officials, including the secretaries of the Navy, Army and Air Force. The party that preaches law and order now in Alabama openly defies a federal court order, refusing to redraw a racially discriminatory election map. In Wisconsin, Republicans seek to impeach a recently elected state Supreme Court justice before she even takes her seat on the bench – this time to protect a gerry-rigged election map that allows them to have a governing majority in the state legislature, despite representing only a minority of the votes. Donald Trump and his co-conspirators dominate the headlines, but the zaniness now pervades the party.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL.) – who never served a day in the military – has blocked the confirmation of 260 high officers of the military – a number that will rise to 650 by the end of the year if Republicans don’t put an end to his nonsense. Tuberville, part of the Republican minority in the Senate, abuses his senatorial privilege by blocking all defense confirmations to extort a Senate vote on the Defense Department’s abortion policy. He won’t draw up legislation for that vote himself. He demands that Democrats introduce the bill and hold the vote.
The Pentagon’s policy – implemented after the Supreme Court’s egregious decision overturning Roe v. Wade – allows soldiers and their dependents to take time off and use official travel to get to states that offer reproductive care – this includes not only abortions, but in vitro fertilizations. The Pentagon policy forbids the funding of abortions, except in the rare cases of rape and incest or if the life of the mother is at risk. The policy mirrors the opinions of the vast majority of the American people.
To take up each confirmation separately and hold the votes necessary to overcome his objections would consume virtually all of the time of the Senate. Appointees who are not confirmed can’t move into their official quarters and have limited authority.
In a joint op-ed, the secretaries of the Navy, Army and Air Force warned that Tuberville was “putting national security at risk.” Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that Tuberville was “paralyzing the Department of Defense.” The effect on recruitment and retention and on the morale of career officials will be brutal. Senior Republican leaders in the Senate have publicly called on Tuberville to stand down. Instead, he vows to persist.
In Wisconsin, Republicans display their utter contempt for voters. They gerrymandered the election districts to give them a controlling majority of the legislature with the minority of the votes. In a partisan 4-3 vote, the state Supreme Court refused to overturn the injustice. In response, voters in Wisconsin threw out a conservative justice and elected a reformer who campaigned on upholding the rights of women and workers and ensuring that elections expressed the will of the majority. So now Republicans in the state legislature are threatening to impeach the new justice before she takes her seat on the bench. Following Donald Trump’s example, they scorn the verdict of the voters.
In Alabama, Republican defiance of the order of a federal court evokes the ugly Southern history of invoking states’ rights to discriminate against African Americans. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling that Alabama’s redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered the state to redraw the lines. (In a state where over one in four voters are African American, only one of seven districts was majority black.) The legislature simply ignored the court order. Now a three-judge federal court panel has appointed its own master to redraw the lines. State Republicans are counting on an appeal to the Supreme Court in the hope that its conservative majority will give them free rein.
On abortion, on racial discrimination, on redistricting, Republican views are opposed by most Americans. So, they seek various ways to enforce their views – even if that requires perversely weakening the Pentagon, or overturning the results of an election, or ignoring the orders of a court.
In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president, proclaimed that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” This echoed the rhetoric of plantation owners, arguing that their liberty included the right to enslave others. Goldwater suffered one of the worst election defeats in history. Now Republicans are once more defending extremism in defense of their views that they have the right to strip women of control of their bodies, to revoke the voting rights of African Americans, to subvert the will of a majority of the voters. Once more they will only be stopped if they are repudiated again and again by voters at the ballot box and by judges loyal to the laws and the Constitution.