Tribune editorial: How low can Congress go?

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, right, meets with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Whoever is in the White House is often criticized — if only by members of the other party — for the amount of time spent on the golf course.

Meanwhile, members of Congress seem to be playing another form of the game. One where, in their minds, the low score wins.

How else to explain the hyper-partisan gridlock that has dominated Captiol Hill for some time now? And the stunning heights of hypocrisy exemplifed by, in only one of the more outrageous examples, Sen. Orrin Hatch’s revolving sense of the Senate’s duty to vet nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The totally unsurprising result is laid out in the RealClearPolitics average of public opinion polls. It puts the public approval of Congress these days at 15.5 percent. Individual polls put the approval of the federal legislative branch as low as 6 percent. And it has been that way, more or less consistently, since 2011.

Hatch, as just one example, has flip-flopped so many times on the proper process for the Senate’s advice and consent role regarding Supreme Court justices that observers are reaching for their motion-sickness bags.

It wasn’t that long ago that Hatch was on record suggesting that then-President Barack Obama choose a well-respected, more or less centrist judge by the name of Merrick Garland for a seat on the high court. Then, when Obama did exactly that, Hatch decided that consistency was less important than standing with his party’s determination to deny the Democrat an election-year appointment and not even grant Garland a hearing.

Now that a Republican president has nominated a conservative for a Supreme Court seat, Democrats are seeking to block the appointment on the grounds that not only is another national election imminent, but also that it could be a serious conflict of interest for a justice to be named by a president who faces a special counsel investigation and may have personal business before the court in the coming months.

Hatch, of course, is nakedly partisan – or amazingly forgetful – in now arguing that it would be disrespectful for the Senate to do anything but consider the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh with all deliberate speed.

And from the other senator from the state of Utah comes the knee-jerk fund-raising appeal from Mike Lee, raising the spectre of wild-eyed liberals blocking the Kavanaugh appointment and pleading for funds for his own re-election campaign. A campaign that will take place long after this nomination is approved or rejected.

Lee’s fund-raising rant, sadly, seems to put aside the hopes expressed in some quarters, and hinted at by the senator himself, that he is not necessarily a rubber stamp on the nomination. That he might — just might — side with sometime ally Sen. Rand Paul and at least ask some hard questions about Kavanaugh’s apparently limitless view of executive power to search, wiretap and otherwise violate the privacy of individuals and whole populations in the name of some vague national security need.

That’s an issue that Lee sometimes takes the high ground on. Except when he doesn’t.

A thorough, but respectful, examination of the Kavanaugh nomination could go a long way toward both fulfilling the constitutional duties of members of Congress and boosting the respect they earn among the general public.

Too bad there seems little chance it will happen.