The Hilariously Horrible Mr. Hatch
So the debasement of the Party of Lincoln has come to this. While short-fingered Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump sought to reassure Americans by declaring "I guarantee there's no problem" with his schlong, his nearest GOP rival Ted Cruz (R-TX) nevertheless told all who would listen that "I have no desire to copulate with him."
But it shouldn't have taken these two newcomers to make Republicans feel embarrassed by their party and its 2016 nominating process. After all, many of the party's longest-serving legislators in Washington and shooting stars in the states have been at the forefront of the GOP's perpetual campaign of disinformation, denialism and unprecedented obstructionism. And in recent years, Utah's senior Senator Orrin Hatch has been pathetically prominent.
As a quick glance at his record shows, the 39-year Senate veteran is a fervent practitioner of the cartoonish nihilism that now passes as Republican orthodoxy. A supposed deficit hawk who has been advocating a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution since 1979, Hatch defended President Bush's unfunded $400 billion Medicare prescription drug plan because "it was standard practice not to pay for things." In 2010, Hatch promised a "holy war" to defeat the Obamacare bill he called unconstitutional despite having co-sponsored almost identical legislation in 1993 as an alternative to Bill Clinton's health care proposal. A supporter of stem cell research who voted to legalize the use of fetal tissue for that very purpose, Senator Hatch led the bogus Republican witch hunt into Planned Parenthood in 2015. A year ago, Hatch was one of 47 GOP Senators who signed a letter to the regime in Tehran warning Congress would block a nuclear deal despite his Iran-Contra defense of Ronald Reagan in which he proclaimed the President is the "the sole person to whom our Constitution gives the responsibility for conducting foreign relations."
Oh, and one other thing. Just days after asking President Obama to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court with a moderate like Merrick Garland, Orrin Hatch vowed to prevent any Senate confirmation hearings for him.
Now, it came as no surprise that Senator Hatch offered such kind words for Judge Garland. In 2010, Hatch called the DC Circuit jurist "a consensus nominee" and said there was "no question" he would earn bipartisan support if President Obama selected him to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
"I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of (Senate) votes. And I will do my best to help him get them."
During Garland's 1997 confirmation process, Hatch was effusive in his praise. Noting that Merrick Garland was selected by President Clinton to replace Laurence Silberman on the DC Circuit (the same Laurence Silberman who voted to overturn the Iran-Contra conviction of Oliver North), Senator Hatch announced:
"I believe Mr. Garland is a fine nominee. I know him personally, I know of his integrity, I know of his legal ability, I know of his honesty, I know of his acumen, and he belongs on the court. I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration. In fact, I would place him at the top of the list."
As Joan McCarter documented, Hatch had a stern warning for his Senate colleagues as well. "Playing politics with judges is unfair," he complained on March 1997, "and I am sick of it."
"I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position."
Nineteen years later, Hatch himself offered a reason. Antonin Scalia was dead, and with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, the current conservative Supreme Court majority would be dead, too. Despite the fact that no SCOTUS nominee had been denied a hearing since 1875 and the complete absence of any Senate norm dictating that Supreme Court nominees are not to be confirmed in an election year, Orrin Hatch took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times this week to pretend that a presidential term is only three years long.
Throughout his time in office, President Obama has demonstrated contempt for the constitutional principles that Justice Scalia sought to protect. Mr. Obama has proudly suggested that "empathy" for particular people and groups should motivate a judge's decisions -- a belief squarely at odds with the judicial oath to "administer justice without respect to persons." The president has appointed two Supreme Court justices and many lower court judges who have embraced the sort of judicial activism Justice Scalia spent his career seeking to curtail.
Of course, when Republican George W. Bush occupied the Oval Office, Orrin Hatch had a different view. As he put it on October 2007:
"Under the Constitution, the President has the primary appointment authority. We check that authority, but we may not hijack it. We may not use our role of advise and consent to undermine the President's authority to appoint judges. That is why, as I have argued on this floor many times, it is wrong to use the filibuster to defeat judicial nominees who have majority support, who would be confirmed if only we could vote up or down."
As ii turns out, Orrin Hatch's view of executive power to conduct the foreign policy of the United States is apparently also contingent on the President's party affiliation.
Take, for example, the recently concluded P5+1 Iranian nuclear deal. In March 2015, Hatch was among the 47 Republican Senators who took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to Tehran warning that it should view "any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei." As the Utah Senator explained in May after the Senate passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015:
"As the Obama administration continues to pursue a potential deal with this rogue regime, the American people remain justifiably skeptical. This legislation ensures Congress's right to oversee and--if necessary--reject any such agreement. With this new authority, I will continue to fight for enforceable and verifiable means of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
When Speaker John Boehner took the previously unimaginable step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress, Senator Hatch was a full-throated supporter of the effort to sabotage the foreign policy of the sitting President of the United States. "Now more than ever," Hatch proclaimed on March 2, 2015, "Congress and the American people must stand with our Israeli allies to ensure the safety and security not only of our two nations, but the Middle East as a whole." It's no wonder, the Salt Lake Tribune crowed the next day, "Utah's Hatch earns prime seat for Netanyahu speech to Congress."
Of course, Mr. Hatch felt differently when President Ronald Reagan was negotiating with the terrorists in Tehran and sent them a cake, a Bible and American weapons.
The Iran-Contra scandal, as you'll recall, almost laid waste to the Reagan presidency. Desperate to free U.S. hostages held by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, President Reagan provided weapons Tehran badly needed in its long war with Saddam Hussein (who, of course, was backed by the United States). In a clumsy and illegal attempt to skirt U.S. law, the proceeds of those sales were then funneled to the contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. And as the New York Times recalled, Reagan's fiasco started with an emissary bearing gifts from the Gipper himself:
A retired Central Intelligence Agency official has confirmed to the Senate Intelligence Committee that on the secret mission to Teheran last May, Robert C. McFarlane and his party carried a Bible with a handwritten verse from President Reagan for Iranian leaders.
According to a person who has read the committee's draft report, the retired C.I.A. official, George W. Cave, an Iran expert who was part of the mission, said the group had 10 falsified passports, believed to be Irish, and a key-shaped cake to symbolize the anticipated ''opening'' to Iran.
As revelations about the scandal began to emerge in the fall of 1986, President Reagan lied to the American people about his deal gone bad. In his nationally-televised address on November 13, 1986, The Gipper claimed that "We did not -- repeat -- did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we." But less than six months later on March 4, 1987, Reagan had to go on TV again to admit the obvious:
"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."
Nevertheless, Senator Orrin Hatch was among the Republican dead-enders arguing that Congress had no power to interfere with President Reagan's conduct of American policy towards the Iranians--or anyone else. As the New York Times reported on May 16, 1987, some of Reagan's allies argued that the President had sweeping power to disregard the Boland Amendment passed by Congress which prohibited all Government aid--"direct or indirect"--to the Nicaraguan Contras.
While reserving judgment on whether the President was guilty of any illegality, these experts dismissed as fallacious the argument by Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, and others that the President is ''the sole person to whom our Constitution gives the responsibility for conducting foreign relations.''
In his November 18, 1987 press conference unveiling the minority response to the Congressional Iran-Contra report, Orrin Hatch joined then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) in rejecting any notion of wrong-doing by the Reagan administration. "The bottom line, however, is that the mistakes...were just that," Rep. Cheney announced to the nation, "mistakes in judgment, and nothing more."
There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ''the rule of law,'' no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or coverup. In fact, the evidence will not support any of the more hysterical conclusions the committees' report tries to reach.
When Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency, it was Orrin Hatch regurgitating the GOP's hysterical conclusions about his judicial nomination, his Iran policy and his health care plan. And Hatch's continued opposition to the what became the Affordable Care Act is more than a little ironic. After all, he offered an Obamacare look-alike as an alternative to Hillarycare back in 1993.
Two years ago, Mr. Hatch along with his fellow GOP Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Richard Burr (R-NC) unveiled a new Republican plan "replace" Obamacare. Due to its lack of a health insurance mandate, less generous tax credits to purchase coverage and stricter eligibility for Medicaid, the Hatch plan yet to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office would doubtless cost less than the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act. But the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment (CARE) Act would also result in millions more American without coverage, gut existing consumer protections and leave those uninsured with pre-existing conditions once again vulnerable to the whims of private carriers, all while shifting costs from employers to workers and their families.
All of which is why the American people would be better served by Obamacare or something very much like it. As it turns out, back in 1993 Orrin Hatch proposed a different health care reform bill that did just that. Call it Hatchcare 1.0.
Back in 1993, he and 20 co-sponsors proposed almost identical provisions as part of the "Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993." (For more background, Kaiser Health News has a convenient summary of that bill, as well as a handy chart comparing its features to the Obamacare law it resembles.) As NPR described Hatchcare v1.0 in February 2010:
Hatch's opposition is ironic, or some would say, politically motivated. The last time Congress debated a health overhaul, when Bill Clinton was president, Hatch and several other senators who now oppose the so-called individual mandate actually supported a bill that would have required it...
[T]he summary of the Republican bill from the Clinton era and the Democratic bills that passed the House and Senate over the past few months are startlingly alike.
Beyond the requirement that everyone have insurance, both call for purchasing pools and standardized insurance plans. Both call for a ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums because a person has been sick in the past. Both even call for increased federal research into the effectiveness of medical treatments -- something else that used to have strong bipartisan support, but that Republicans have been backing away from recently.
Alas, that was then and this is now. And now that Democrats have succeeded in passing health care reform along the lines he once advocated, Orrin Hatch has had a born-again experience as to its efficacy and its constitutionality. His turnabout, he feebly explained to NBC's Andrea Mitchell just days after President Obama signed the ACA into law in March 2010, was all about politics:
MITCHELL: Now, it was first proposed or one of the earlier proposals along these lines was in 1993 when you and other Republicans came up with counteroffers to the Clinton White House and the individual mandate was perfectly acceptable to Republicans back then.
HATCH: Well, it really wasn't. We were fighting Hillarycare at that time. And I don't think anyone centered on it, I certainly didn't. That was 17 years ago. But since then, and with the advent of this particular bill, really seeing how much they're depending on an unconstitutional approach to it, yea, naturally I got into it, got into it on this issue.
When Hatch pledged a "holy war" to stop the Affordable Care Act, he also candidly exposed the real reason for the GOP's all-out war on Obamacare. As he explained in a November 2009 interview with CBN, Orrin Hatch didn't fear that Democratic health care reform would fail, but that it would succeed:
HATCH: That's their goal. Move people into government that way. Do it in increments. They've actually said it. They've said it out loud.
Q: This is a step-by-step approach --
HATCH: A step-by-step approach to socialized medicine. And if they get there, of course, you're going to have a very rough time having a two-party system in this country, because almost everybody's going to say, "All we ever were, all we ever are, all we ever hope to be depends on the Democratic Party."
Q: They'll have reduced the American people to dependency on the federal government.
HATCH: Yeah, you got that right. That's their goal. That's what keeps Democrats in power.
To put it another way, if over time American voters rewarded the Democratic Party for helping fix the broken health care system, the prognosis for the GOP would not be good. Which is why Hatchcare 1.0 twenty-three years ago and Hatchcare 2.0 now were always just placebos designed to prevent Republicans from coming down with a serious case of minority party.
As it turns out, the Republicans are doing a pretty good job on their own in laying the groundwork for their status as a minority party. Their all-out war against Planned Parenthood in the wake of doctored videos manufactured by a now-indicted conservative sting merchants provides a case in point. Support for the essential women's health care resource remained strong even after Republicans like Orrin Hatch jumped to their hysterical conclusions last July:
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on Wednesday called for a comprehensive congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood, one day after the second video was released.
"I am horrified by the videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of unborn baby parts as casually as a mechanic might seek to sell car parts," he wrote in a statement.
"Congress must investigate whether Planned Parenthood, which receives hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, is complying with applicable laws and regulations," he wrote.
Hatch should know. After all, he voted for the 1993 bill which legalized the use of fetal tissue for medical research.
As Huffington Post reported:
In 1988, the Reagan administration began a moratorium on fetal tissue from elective abortions being used in scientific research. But Congress lifted that ban in 1993 when it passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act, which allowed research on human fetal tissue regardless of whether the tissue came from a voluntary abortion. McConnell voted for that bill, as did Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), all of whom have condemned Planned Parenthood in the past two weeks for its involvement in the practice.
That bill, which passed the House by 283 to 131 and the Senate by a whopping 93 to 4, also included the backing of Orrin Hatch. But Hatch, among the first in the Senate to call for an investigation of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the doctored videos released by anti-abortion foes, has a good reason for supporting research using fetal tissue. That rare commodity among Congressional Republicans, Senator Orrin Hatch supports stem cell research.
That's right. As Hatch explained to Rachel Gotbaum in the New England Journal of Medicine in March 2007, the issue of stem cell research was a very personal one:
RACHEL GOTBAUM: You're a pro-life Republican.
ORRIN HATCH: That's right.
RG: Did something happen? Did a case come up? What was the turning point?
OH: Well, there was a case. I can't say that it was the only reason why my mind was changed, but there was a little Utah boy - he was 4 years of age - who was brought to me. His name was Cody Anderson. He was 4 years of age, and you can imagine the horror his family had when they found out that he had exactly the same virulent diabetic condition that his grandfather had, who died at the premature age of 47 due to complications of diabetes after a series of something like 27 painful and debilitating and ultimately unsuccessful operations. I can still remember that little exhausted boy falling peacefully asleep in his father's arms in my office as his family visited me in support of more funding for diabetes research. It dawned on me that we owe the best we can to these kids.
The next month, Hatch described the possible life-saving cures that could be made possible by stem cell research from the availability of by the donation of fetal tissue he helped legalize:
"When I think about embryonic stem cell research, I imagine diabetics without insulin pumps. I imagine patients with Parkinson's disease who sprint rather than shuffle. I conceive of patients with spinal cord disease or injuries who stand up and walk again."
Of course, that was then and this is now. And now, right-wing activists enraged by the legal and routine practice by Planned Parenthood and others of preserving and providing fetal tissue as requested by their patients. If the anti-abortion forces succeed in blocking the Title X and Medicaid funds that constitute 40 percent of Planned Parenthood's budget, millions of women will lose access to contraception, cancer screening and STD tests. As a result, both Uncle Sam's overall spending and the body count of American women will go up.
Of course, the only body count Orrin Hatch is worried about is that of defeated GOP candidates. That's why he refers to those Republicans like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump threatening a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood is not defunded as "downright stupid." As Hatch fretted in September:
"Just to shut down the government without any real assurance that it's going to make any difference other than it's going to kill Republicans seems stupid to me, and it's going to kill conservatives."
Judging by Orrin Hatch's horrible history, that welcome day of reckoning is about four decades overdue.