He'd planned on defending Chuck Schumer. The day before, John Kass's editor at the Chicago Tribune asked his longtime columnist if he was going to take the senator's side. "Yeah," Kass replied. "That was my intent." After all, he said, "We all say stupid things we regret." But, as John and the rest of the country were about to find out, the New York senator didn't regret it. Not really.
In the mainstream media, where the usual default is to give Democrats the benefit of the doubt, Schumer's rant outside the court was an uncomfortable moment, to say the least. There were some reporters, in the early hours of the controversy, who gave into the temptation to compare Schumer's threats against Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to things the president has said. But to most people -- including John Kass -- there's no comparison. "Trump never said [the justices] wouldn't 'know what hit them,'" he argued.
That's why, when Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) first heard the news reports, he didn't believe them. "I thought, 'This can't be right.' So I looked at the comments. I looked at the video, and it was extraordinary." As for his comments being taken the wrong way? Give me a break, Hawley argued. "Listen... [Senator Schumer's] not stupid. He knew exactly what he was doing. His later non-apology, where he said, 'Well, my comments were misinterpreted.' They weren't misinterpreted. He meant to threaten these two justices. He went there to do it." Now, look, Hawley went on, "If you don't like an opinion of the court, that's fine. Feel free to say so. If you don't think a justice is good at his or her job, that's fine. But to threaten the justices, that's beyond the pale."
At the end of the day, Hawley said, "I'm not interested in his apologies that he clearly doesn't believe in and really didn't own up to. I'm interested in him learning the lesson that this is threatening justices, threatening our rule of law that should be out of bounds in American politics. And the Senate ought to put down a clear marker on this. And that's why I introduced this resolution [to formally censure Schumer]." So far, 14 senators agree with the idea. Like Hawley, they think this is exactly the kind of dangerous rhetoric Congress needs to end.
"Listen, you can have disagreements. I disagree with Supreme Court decisions all the time," Hawley acknowledged, "and I worked at that court. I've litigated it at court. I'm a member of the bar of that court. So you're not going to get any grief from me for criticizing Supreme Court opinion. But it's different to do what he did and... to call out and personally threaten justices." And the thing that really gets under his skin -- and so many others' -- is the hypocrisy.
"[Democrats] are very happy to go... point the finger at Republicans or the president. Any time [Donald Trump] makes a remark that Schumer doesn't like, any time the president says something critical, Schumer accuses him of... inciting hatred. But then what? Schumer himself actually goes to the Supreme Court, a separate co-equal branch of government, calls out justices by name, and threatens them. Then he says, 'Oh, well... that's your problem. You shouldn't have taken it that way.' He should take some responsibility here. And [that's] why the Senate needs to send a message."
Meanwhile, behind closed doors, party leaders must be losing their collective minds. Whatever high ground the Democrats might have had pointing the finger at the president just crumbled beneath their feet. With so much at stake this year, including the U.S. Senate, Schumer's tirade doesn't exactly help the Left's cause. On the contrary, they give Trump the upper hand on one of the strongest arrows in his quiver: the courts. "Of everything Democrats lost to Donald Trump in 2016," the Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel reminds everyone, "the forfeiture of the judicial branch still grates the most..." But attacking it, she warns, "is about as politically wise as impeachment."
"Mr. Trump will make sure his court successes are at the center of his re-election campaign. He will again highlight the stakes, especially for the Supreme Court. And here are Democrats making his case more powerful by promising not only to put an end to Trump picks, but to undo his court victories to date. Talk about a Republican turnout motivator."
All the president has to do from now until November, Hawley agrees, is point to Schumer. Obviously, these are horrible comments from anyone, "[But] this is a guy who wants to run the Senate, for heaven's sake! And... with a number of Senate seats on the ballot this year, [people] need to realize what the stakes are."