Ben Sasse's 'Tell It Like It Is' Moment at Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

As the hearings to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court generated a partisan circus — complete with protesters in Handmaid’s Tale garb — one man stood above the fray to deliver a splash of cold water to the face of Congress. That man was Ben Sasse.


Senator Sasse (R-Neb.) made one of the most impassioned statements of his career on Tuesday. In ten minutes, he held forth on what is wrong with the politicization of the Supreme Court nomination process.

The Washington Post‘s Amber Phillips broke Sasse’s speech down into four bullet points:

1. Congress is set up to be the most po­lit­i­cal branch. “This is sup­posed to be the in­sti­tu­tion dedi­cat­ed to po­lit­i­cal fights,” Sasse said.
2.But in the name of politics, lawmakers have de­cid­ed to keep their jobs rath­er than take tough votes. “Most people here want their jobs more than they re­al­ly want to do legis­la­tive work, and so they punt their legis­la­tive work to the next branch,” Sasse said.
3. Be­cause Congress of­ten lets the ex­ec­u­tive branch write rules, and Americans aren’t sure who in the gov­ern­ment bureauc­ra­cy to talk to, that leaves Americans with no oth­er place than the courts to turn to ex­press their frus­tra­tion with poli­cies. And the Su­preme Court, with its nine vis­i­ble mem­bers, is a con­veni­ent out­let. Sasse: “This trans­fer of pow­er means people yearn for a place where politics can be done, and when we don’t do a lot of big po­lit­i­cal debate here, people trans­fer it to the Su­preme Court. And that’s why the Su­preme Court is in­creas­ing­ly a sub­sti­tute po­lit­i­cal battle­ground for America.”
4. Sasse’s final point is one you can prob­a­bly guess is com­ing by now: That this proc­ess needs to change. If Congress did more legis­lat­ing, these Su­preme Court nom­i­na­tion bat­tles would get less po­lit­i­cal, he ar­gues: “If we see lots and lots of pro­tests in front of the Su­preme Court, that’s a pret­ty good ba­rom­e­ter of the fact that our re­pub­lic isn’t heal­thy. They shouldn’t be pro­test­ing in front of the Su­preme Court, they should be pro­test­ing in front of this body.”


Clearly, in the senator’s eyes, Congress isn’t doing what the public has elected them to do, and this failure of the body to do its job has led directly to the divided, heated hearings we see every time a potential Supreme Court justice is up for confirmation these days.

It was a passionate, powerful moment — one worthy of a Hollywood script. Naturally, pundits on both sides of the political divide are seeing it through their own lenses.

Over at National Review, David French points out that Sasse gave a much-needed civics lesson not just to those present at the hearing but also to anyone watching at home:

Multiple members of the House and Senate recognize this problem (Senator Sasse is obviously one of them), but they lack numbers. So until they have the legislative strength to restore the Founders’ vision, they must educate — and they must vote for judges who understand their proper, limited role in the constitutional structure. Today, Senator Sasse conducted the necessary educational session.

French believes that Sasse made a valid point, which he did, and that it was worth making at that moment. Sasse has long been an advocate of restoring our system to what the Founders intended it to be, and this statement goes hand in hand with what he has always believed.


Of course, the left views Sasse with abject cynicism. Witness Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern, who drips with contempt at the GOP’s attempts to rein in the power of executive agencies, which Stern claims keep “mercury out of your air, discrimination out of your schools, and predatory lenders out of your wallet.”

While Sasse is not troubled by an imperial president who amasses an unprecedented amount of power in a single branch and wields it with spite and caprice, he is upset that executive branch agencies exist and do things. That is the thrust of the senator’s statement: The “administrative state,” an entrenched and unsanctioned “fourth branch of government,” allegedly rules “the people” while Congress withers on the vine.

What, exactly, is this sinister “administrative state”? In short, it comprises those agencies that the Trump administration is trying to defang or destroy.

Leave it to someone at Slate to side with unaccountable bureaucrats over an elected member of the legislature. I suppose Stern believes that we’ll all drop dead of poisoning, go back to segregated lunch counters, or get screwed when looking for a loan if Congress actually does its job instead of relying on an administrative bureaucracy.

When all is said and done, Ben Sasse gave Congress some priceless advice, but will our legislators apply it? It’s doubtful, but who knows?



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