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Why Dick Durbin Won’t Confront A Radical Supreme Court

Why Dick Durbin Won’t Confront A Radical Supreme Court

Guest Gabe Garbowit breaks it down for us.

Gabe Garbowit, former Senate staffer for Tina Smith, joins me to help explain why Senate Democrats, especially in leadership, have responded to a radicalized Supreme Court and GOP in ways that don’t make a lot of sense to us common folk. Please download the podcast above or watch the video below. We had such a good time that this became a two-part episode, so we’ll see you on Monday with the thrilling conclusion

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Transcribed excerpts from our conversation …

SER: Gabe, you've worked in the U.S. Senate for a while and survived, which is itself impressive. And I thought you would have some insight into something that is puzzling, not just me, but … I think a lot of people, particularly how Senate Democrats are responding to both a radicalized Republican Party, but also a completely out of control Supreme Court that is an extension of the Republican Party,

GABE GARBOWIT: I worked for Senator Tina Smith for four and a half years, so I never worked directly with [Democratic Senate Judiciary Chair Dick] Durbin. But the dynamics of like the Supreme Court have, even well before when I started as a staffer in 2018, this has been this kind of ongoing thing that just keeps building and building. But the Democrats have like very clearly stayed very stagnant while the like ground [was] shifting beneath their feet.

In terms of Dick Durbin and how he's been operating, I believe he came to the Senate in 1997 and he mostly just has not changed how he’s behaved since then. He does not really have like a particular interest in checking the Court, using the tools that he has with his committee.

I was a communication staffer. I know quite a bit about how media is handled, just kind of the general apparatus including with his committee and … it’s almost hard to describe for people who haven't worked in any sort of media environment but for instance, in journalism, right, before a TV production about a story, there might be like a producer or, someone with a lot of technical background, that can help make that happen. And that is like very lacking from Durbin’s team, not him specifically.

It’s like a much bigger problem in the party and especially people with that technical knowledge that can be like looped into the decision making process. So that also really constrains the type of hearings they're able to do, how they’re able to do it.

And yeah, I mean, it's a huge problem. I think just because this year has just gotten so ridiculous and the amount of corruption is so staggering. It’s really, for a much wider group of people than usual, really been revealed for just how ridiculous of a situation it is.


SER: I think there’s a lot of, I call them Democratic partisans, who look to Democratic leadership and they’re very defensive of Democratic leadership and their choices. I’ve seen this in some responses to you, which is a sort of to lecture us about if we understood the Constitution and the Senate rules, we’d understand why we have no choice but to lay down and die, which is somewhat premature surrender, “Oh, well, if he had hearings, what would happen? You know [Justice Sam Alito] wouldn’t show up and it’s all performative.” Well, politics is [performative], what are you talking about? Like, why even have a campaign rallies? It’s nuts to me especially when they’ve seen what Republicans do and you worked in a Senate with Lindsey Graham. There’s no question if he had the gavel and he’s been there I would say as long as Durbin. If he had the gavel, and [Justice] Sonia Sotomayor was taking private jets to islands where they hunt unicorn or something from liberal donors. Or Ketanji Brown Jackson’s partner had Nation of Islam, flags flying. I mean, we know what Republicans would do.

So what are Democrats thinking? Do they think that Republican tactics don't work?

GABE: So to give you a sense with Lindsey Graham, the extent of what you just said being true. So, all right, I'm gonna try to think about how to say this in as least a wonky way as possible.

Basically, when Senator [Dianne] Feinstein, who was having a lot of issues with old age in the last part of her career, when she had to be away from the Senate because she was so sick, Durbin went on TV and he was like, well, we don’t have proxy voting, so there’s no way to do subpoenas for anything related to the Supreme Court.

Beyond the fact that that is just like simply not true, it’s the case for nominations. It’s not the case for subpoenas. Lindsey Graham literally said when Amy Coney Barrett was getting confirmed, Durbin raised an objection and he said, well, there’s not enough people here. There’s no proxy voting for nominations. So you can’t do this.

And Lindsey Graham said, “Senator, this is how we’re doing it. If the shoe were on the other foot, like you would do the same exact thing. And yeah, too bad.”

So even Lindsey Graham is giving permission to the Democrats to be a little more aggressive. But it's just like it's hard to really answer why [Durbin acts this way.] I mean, certainly like people like Lindsey Graham have way, way more pressure from the grassroots in the Right flank to always be as extreme as possible. That's clearly one factor. For instance, I’ve talked about how Durbin should get primaried and the fact that it’t not that realistic. That’s a real problem because for Durbin, he’s basically able to just keep doing what he’s doing no matter what and not really feel like any push. In fact, it could be the opposite right like if he does things that upset corporate donors or something. The other piece of this is just generally the way that for whatever reason … Republicans and the way that they use government resources when they have control in Congress is much much much more sophisticated in how they use it to achieve like goals they care about.

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The classic example and it’s one that I think people don’t talk about enough is what happened in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. There was the Benghazi committee. People are aware of that, maybe it did something maybe not. It certainly created a general appearance of like, wow, Hillary Clinton is not a lawful actor. But we have a very direct thing where it really mattered because for the [House] Oversight Committee, they were relentless with James Comey about emails. They kept talking about emails over and over again. And even if we’re going to pretend that had no effect on the electorate, almost everybody thinks the letter that James Comey sent reopening the email investigation in October … led to Hillary Clinton’s loss well why did he send this letter. He sent it to that Oversight Committee and the Oversight Committee was the one who then said, “Oh, wow, this has been reopened! This is a huge story, and it became a huge story. But Comey did because he promised them and they were going to be relentless about it that he would have to update them on any developments related to the email investigation and that’s direct example of committee resources being used in a way that, in that case, very well might have changed the course of American history.

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The Play Typer Guy
The Play Typer Guy Podcast
"The Play Typer Guy” offers an engaging deep dive into politics and pop culture. Your host is Portland, Oregon-based playwright, columnist, and media critic Stephen Robinson. His son describes him as “play typer guy."