Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had full-blown meltdowns on Thursday after Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) held votes on two of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees without allowing debate on them, saying he was simply following the “new precedent” established by Republicans when they did the same thing to Democrats, twice.
Durbin appeared to completely blindside Republicans by moving straight to votes on two U.S. District Court nominees, Mustafa Kasubhai and Eumi Lee, without opening up the floor for discussions on them. Both nominees had two previous hearings and had been debated. But typically the panel would still allow for more discussion in what was their confirmation hearing.
Not Thursday. Durbin went straight to their votes, saying senators already had two chances to debate their nominations. And GOP reactions went from confusion to anger to the kinds of high-octane tantrums familiar to anyone with children under the age of 5.
“Are we going to have an opportunity to speak?” asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“I would also like to speak on the nomination,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).
“I understand what you’d like to do, but I’m saying, in fairness, we’ve debated these nominees twice,” Durbin said. “I ask the clerk to call the roll.”
This is where the anger kicked in.
“You’re denying us an opportunity to speak?” Cornyn asked.
“Come on, man,” fumed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I mean, OK. Do this. Just do it!”
“We don’t have a right to speak under the rules?” asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
“Under the third time, I’d say no,” Durbin said flatly.
“So you’re just going to make it up?” Cotton demanded to know.
“You’re telling us to shut up? You want us to SHUT UP?” Blackburn said, raising her voice. “Is that what you’re saying?”
"Do this! Just do it!” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fumed at Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) for following a precedent set by Republicans on advancing judicial nominees.
Soon Republicans were talking over each other and hurling insults and threats at Durbin.
“There’s going to be a lot of consequences coming here,” warned Cotton. “I cautioned a lot of you. Listen to me! I cautioned a lot of you!”
Cornyn suggested that Republicans might walk out of the hearing right then and deny a quorum, meaning the committee couldn’t conduct any votes.
Cotton got so mad he started talking about himself in the third person.
“Mr. Cotton says the chairman needs to rethink his decision,” said Cotton, as his name came up in the roll call. “That’s what Mr. Cotton says.”
When Blackburn said again she wanted to talk, Cotton interjected, “Now I guess Sen. Durbin is not going to allow women to speak either. I thought that was sacrosanct in your party!”
“Congratulations on destroying the United States Senate Judiciary Committee,” Cornyn dramatically told Durbin.
“Congratulations on destroying the United States Senate Judiciary Committee!"
Through all this, Durbin sat expressionless, waiting for breaks in the attacks to quietly direct the clerk to continue the roll call. He periodically reminded Republicans that they’d already had two chances to debate both nominees in two separate hearings. That didn’t seem to matter much to them.
“You had to bring them up again,” Graham said. “It wasn’t our fault! It’s your fault!”
“This is a complete disgrace,” Cornyn said.
“Is this an illegal vote?” Blackburn wondered. (It was not.)
It wasn’t until after Democrats voted out both nominees and the complaints had somewhat subsided that Durbin had a chance to spell out why this was happening: He was following a precedent set by the last two Republican chairs of the committee, who violated the same committee rule to advance nominees and legislation without giving Democrats a chance to weigh in.
In other words, Durbin was giving Republicans a taste of their own medicine.
“The two preceding chairs of this committee violated the letter and spirit of Committee Rule IV,” he said, referring to a committee rule that requires at least one member of the minority to vote with the majority to end debate on a matter before moving to vote on it.
Durbin said one former chair, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), violated this rule with a vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, and Graham was chair when he broke the rule to advance a partisan immigration bill without Democratic input.
“In doing so, Republicans established a new precedent that I followed on one occasion last Congress and will follow again today,” said the Illinois Democrat. “I’ve said time and again there cannot be one set of rules for Republicans and a different set for Democrats.”
“This is the third time they were brought up,” he added of the two nominees at the center of Thursday’s hearing. “That’s the reason the ruling was made by the chair.”
I'm just following your lead, guys.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) suggested it was petty for Durbin to break rules just because previous chairmen did it, too.
“So Mr. Chairman, you’re saying because you think Sen. Grassley violated the rule, you’re going to violate the rule?” he asked.
“It’s called precedent, senator,” replied Durbin.
A committee spokesperson noted that Kennedy spoke on Kasubhai in a Nov. 2 hearing and again in a Nov. 19 hearing, for a total of 12 minutes.
Graham spoke on both nominees in the Nov. 2 hearing, for about two minutes, too. And Cotton spoke on Kasubhai in the Nov. 9 hearing for about six minutes.
“Chair Durbin did in fact offer Republicans the opportunity to speak on Lee’s nomination before we turned to the subpoenas,” said the spokesperson, referring to other business carried out in the hearing, “and not a single one took him up on that offer.”
Both nominees now head to the Senate floor for final confirmation votes.