Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is quoted in today's New York Times as saying about Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzales (the man who approved the Torture Memos),
“Generally, for an executive branch position the president gets the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “The general feeling on the committee is that he has probably met that lowered threshold.”
Whether Sen. Schumer was expressing a normative or a positive view, that is whether the quote represented Schumer's personal view or only Schumer's impression of the views of his fellow Senators on the committee, it's pretty horrible when the Senate's advice and consent role is this stunted. The bar is pretty low when that “lowered threshold” will admit a nominee who, in commissioning and passing on the torture memos participated in a scheme to
- attempt to put a patina of legality on war crimes and
- totally twist the Constitution to suggest the President has powers akin to Louis XIVth's and
- mis-state the relevant precedents to make it seem like the above have substantial judicial support when in fact the opposite is true.
There is of course an element of political calculation here. Many chickenhearted Senators believe that they expend political capital by opposing cabinet nominations, when in fact opposing the right ones may create it. But even if I'm wrong about that, for some things — torture, fundamental constitutional principles — the calculations should be left aside.
As far as I'm concerned, Congress was almost as much to blame for Iraq as Bush — they wrote him a blank check, with the Gulf of Tonkin precedent sitting there in front of them. If there isn't some serious attempt in Congress to come to grips with the torture scandal in the next year, then some of the torture dirt will stick to them as well.