[Commentary]: Mitch McConnell Has Vitiated the Senate. The Constitution Allows Kamala Harris to Stop Him.
When Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is sworn in as vice president on January 20, 2021, she will become the president of and presiding officer over the United States Senate.
Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution mandates that “the Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.”
The next clause grants the vice president power over the Senate:
The Senate shall choose their other officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the office of President of the United States.
The key phrase in Article I Section 3 is “in the absence of the vice president.”
Currently, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate is 87-year-old Nebraska Republican Chuck Grassley. Incidentially, that places Grassley right behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in the presidential line of succession (go ahead, shudder).
Futher, positions such as majority and minority leader are not outlined in the Constitution. Rather, they are the product of rules written by the Senate itself, which have historically been fluid and subject to change depending on the make-up of the body.
But none of that matters when it comes to the authority the Constitution bestows upon the vice president, should he or she choose to exercise it.
Because this is the case, Harris can and should strip Mitch McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, of his power to set the Senate’s agenda.
Since the late 19th Century, the vice president’s legislative role has generally been limited to casting tie-breaking votes when there is a 50-50 split in the Senate.
Today, the country is neck-deep in a preventable emergency the likes of which it has not experienced in more than a century, mostly due to the inconceivable incompetence of soon-to-be former President Donald Trump.
Thousands of Americans are dying every day from COVID-19, which will have claimed at least 400,000 lives by the time Harris and President-Elect Joe Biden are inaugurated.
McConnell and his Senate Republican caucus have stood in the way of getting financial aid to millions of struggling workers and hundreds of thousands of fleggling small businesses. Many of them have openly denied the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, refusing to wear masks and issuing statements which contradict medical experts and scientific facts.
McConnell has bastardized the judicial nomination process too, which falls under the Senate’s role of providing “advice and consent” to presidential nominations to federal benches and the United States Supreme Court.
The three most glaring examples of this are:
- McConnell refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated in 2016 to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
- McConnell urging Trump to add Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court literally minutes after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Barrett’s nomination was rushed through the Senate – she was confirmed to the Court in October, solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority that could last for decades.
- The historic number of young, right-wing judges that have been nominated by Trump and installed by McConnell in the federal courts.
As president of the Senate and its presiding officer, Harris should, on day one, immediately command control over setting the Senate’s agenda and force the chamber to vote on legislation crucial to saving American lives and stablizing the economy.
Harris also must – finally, formally, and rightly – give McConnell a dose of his own medicine. Republicans, who claim to revere the Constitution, would be unable to challenge it, short of a full-scale mutiny, or in other words, committing sedition against the United States.
The American people cannot afford another day of McConnell’s insidious corruption or his murderous contempt for democracy and human life.
Forty-six days until the inauguration.