Throughout the 2017 special election campaign, then candidate Doug Jones vowed to avoid the trap of partisan politics if elected to the United States Senate. Although running as a Democrat, he maintained he would not be an automatic “D” vote.
For the most part, that seems to be true. Immediately after the announcement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, the media sought out Jones. Given the narrow margin for Republicans in the U.S. Senate, many thought red-state Democrats like Jones, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) could be pivotal votes for President Donald Trump’s appointee to replace Kennedy.
Jones made it clear he would take a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t think my role is to [be a] rubber stamp for the president, but it’s also not an automatic knee-jerk no either,” Jones said in a July appearance on CNN.
As we know now, the current Supreme Court nomination fight is proving much more difficult for Republicans than the Neil Gorsuch fight earlier this year. Instead of moving forward with Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, the Senate — and the country — have been piecing together an allegation that Kavanaugh groped Christine Blasey Ford at a high school house party some 36 years ago.
Now that America is in the throes of a high-stakes battle to determine whether Kavanaugh is fit for the Supreme Court, Jones’ wait-and-see approach has evolved into a let’s-wait-a-little-longer-and-see approach. As measured as Jones has been through much of his term to date, the waiting game now has become a highly politicized Democratic strategy — epitomized by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-California) shameless decision to sit on Ford’s allegation until after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.
It’s a strategy that’s working for Senate Democrats, who have manipulated the demands of an alleged victim to delay the vote — in the craven hope they can stave off a confirmation until after the midterm elections. The strategy has been much more effective than the Code Pink protesters disrupting Kavanaugh’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing earlier this month, or the antics likely 2020 presidential hopefuls Sens. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) or Kamala Harris (D-California) pulled during those hearings.
While Jones may want to take the high road and maintain his “wait” approach, his constituents are unlikely to see his strategy as anything other than partisan Democratic games.
Strip away the politics of the situation as much as possible and examine it at face value. On the one hand, you have a crucial position to be filled that could impact our lives for generations. This decision is not to be taken lightly.
On the other hand, you have people who disagree with this choice, and they don’t just kind of disagree. They really disagree. They will do whatever it takes to fight this nomination. If “whatever it takes” means throwing some random haymaker punches, consequences be darned, then that’s what they’ll do.
How does that look to people in Alabama? As best as we can, try to imagine how Alabamians view 11th-hour allegations after numerous FBI background checks, a rigorous U.S. Senate committee hearing, fleets of people vouching for a man’s character and no evidence other than the accusation to back up the claim.
The people of Alabama are good, and feel for victims — but they are not fools. They can see partisanship a mile away. We should never devalue the voice of a victim. However, the Democratic gamesmanship with these allegations arguably has done more to stifle their gravity than the GOP’s effort to move the confirmation schedule along.
For that reason, it’s a risky bet for Sen. Jones to liken this to a criminal trial, as he did on his personal Twitter account in a message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) on Saturday.
“I’m a former U.S. Attorney,” Jones wrote. “If a judge/juror made a public statement that their mind was made up before all testimony is in, the trial would be prejudiced & I’d move for mistrial & have the judge removed. Mr. Leader, is this the message we want to send to victims of sexual assault?”
Throughout Jones’ thus far short political career, he has often referenced the late Sen. Howell Heflin, who served as a Democrat in the U.S. Senate for Alabama from 1979 through 1996. He was replaced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who ran as a Republican and caught the wave as Alabama was making the transition from a Democratic state to a Republican state.
Years earlier, in 1986, Heflin decided at the last minute to oppose Sessions’ appointment by then-President Ronald Reagan to the federal bench. Sessions’ confirmation went down in committee by a 10-8 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Heflin’s vote was the one that sank Sessions’ nomination.
It was a much different time in Alabama media. The papers were not left-of-center organs that now act as an extension of the national Democratic Party. They rooted for the hometown guy. The Mobile Register editorial board castigated Heflin after his vote, calling him the “Benedict Arnold of Alabama.” Heflin’s Alabama Republican Senate colleague Sen. Jeremiah Denton also hammered him.
Obviously, these are very different appointments with varying circumstance. However, it is worth noting Heflin paid a political price in Alabama, and it wasn’t because of the partisan party labels involved. Sen. Richard Shelby, formerly a Democrat, showed with his 1986 win that Democrats could still win in Alabama.
If, as is likely, Jones’ constituents see these allegations as nothing more than a hit job on a Trump-nominated appointee for the sake of politics — and in-state polling would likely back this up — Jones putting himself at the forefront of this fight will come at a political cost.
And if he is indeed acting as his conscience is compelling him to act by being outspoken about this process, it will come at a price — one that will be due when he faces his Republican opponent in 2020.