Did SCOTUS Hearing Distance Senators From Trump?
Former President Donald Trump is still the frontrunner for the GOP in 2024, and he remains enormously popular with his base. Still, there has been mounting signs that the GOP is trying to distance itself from the ex-president, and many believe this was on display during the often contentious questioning of Ketanji Brown Jackson by Republican members of the judiciary committee.
While they prodded her on some very controversial issues, including her sentencing decision in child pornography cases, Republicans didn’t use their question-and-answer session with Brown Jackson to challenge her about two high-profile decisions she issued that went against former President Trump.
Some see this as another in a series of sines that Senate Republicans see Trump as more of a liability than an asset heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
While some Senate Republican candidates are clamoring for Trump’s endorsement in this year’s primaries, Senate GOP incumbents don’t want to inject the former president into the national conversation, fearing his growing legal troubles could turn off moderate swing voters.
Republican strategist Vin Weber said GOP lawmakers believe they’re in a good position to win control of the House and possibly the Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024 because of President Biden’s continually plummeting poll numbers and don’t want to blow their chances by turning either election into another referendum on Trump.
“Republicans believe there is very little that can screw up a new Republican majority, but there are a couple of possibilities: one is a completely unpredictable external event, the other is Donald Trump,” he said. “As Republicans assess the risk out there, that is one possible risk factor.
“Republicans have a real interest in not elevating the Trump issue, if you will, whether it be advocating for him or defending his actions,” he added. “That’s a lot of what you saw in the Supreme Court hearing, a desire not to draw attention to Trump.”
Jackson, a District of Columbia circuit judge and former D.C. district judge, ruled in two cases involving issues related to Trump, allegations of Russian involvement on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election, and the former president’s role in provoking the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Some conservative strategists identified Jackson’s rulings in Judiciary v. McGahn and Thompson v. Trump as two that deserved scrutiny, especially her opinion in the first, where she declared “presidents are not kings,” which was later overruled on appeal.
Jackson took a direct shot at Trump’s often-stated claims of executive privilege to rebuff attempts by Congress and other investigators to subpoena his associates or key documents.
“This Court holds that Executive branch officials are not absolutely immune from compulsory congressional process — no matter how many times the Executive branch has asserted as much over the years — even if the President expressly directs such officials’ non-compliance,” Jackson wrote in her November 2019 decision rejecting Trump’s attempt to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.
Conservative activists thought Jackson’s rhetorical flourish contrasting presidents and kings went beyond what was warranted and could be interpreted as a sign of an activist political leaning that made her attractive to the liberal dark money groups that pushed her nomination.
Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who vehemently defended Trump in both of his Senate impeachment trials, criticized Jackson’s reasoning, writing in The Hill that she “does not seem to understand how our constitutional system of checks and balances is supposed to work.”
“In straying well beyond her role to decide only the cases and controversies before her, Judge Jackson has tilted the balance against the executive branch and in favor of the legislative branch,” Dershowitz argued.
Weber said the lack of interest in arguing Trump’s cause during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing is one of several recent examples that show the GOP is trying to distance itself from the former president and that Trump’s influence on the party may be slipping.