Time: It was of the essence Saturday afternoon, in the minutes (literally) after President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court. Who would be the first Arkansan in public office to celebrate the announcement?
The prize goes to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, daughter of a former Arkansas governor, and whose gubernatorial ambitions are self-proclaimed. But then Sanders, Mr. Trump’s former press secretary, would have the inside track: At 4:03, one minute (by the White House timestamp) before the president’s official announcement, Sanders took to Twitter to proclaim the Barrett nomination “bold and courageous.” (“In every single one of these instances where someone is nominated…they have a hearing and then the senators vote on it.” — Sanders, in 2018, two years after the GOP-controlled Senate refused hearings on Barack Obama’s final nominee.)
It took Sen. Tom Cotton eight minutes to catch up to Sanders. At 4:11, Cotton, on his Twitter account, affirmed he would vote to seat Barrett. Actually, a day earlier and in anticipation of the candidate, Cotton asserted that the Senate (or, more precisely, its GOP majority) would move the Barrett nomination “without delay,” and no matter that the presidential election was but 40 days distant. More than four years earlier, when the presidential election was not weeks but nine months away, Cotton wondered why the hurry: “Why would we cut off the national debate about this next justice? Why would we squelch the voice of the people, why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the makeup of the Supreme Court?...[W]e cannot rush this decision.”
Next up, at 4:25, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. Keenly aware that the nomination was in serious jeopardy and that the White House and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were counting on her to push Barrett across the finish line, the Arkansan signaled her support: “I look forward to working with President Trump and the U.S. Senate to assist with getting Judge Barrett confirmed.”
A little after Sanders and Rutledge, his 2022 rivals for the governorship, came Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. At 4:31, Barrett “& our country deserve a fair and respectful hearing,” tweeted Griffin, who, to be fair and respectful, had weighed in the day before with a civics lesson: Any president “has the constitutional authority to nominate a justice…the Senate has the same authority to advise & consent.
Those powers don’t change simply because it’s an election year.” True. Two years ago, he attributed the stall on the Obama nominee to Democratic “Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to abandon the filibuster to rush through Obama appointees.” True?
Cotton’s Arkansas colleague, John Boozman, was next, at 4:43, stating that the candidate was “well qualified” and that he would consider the nomination “as the Senate proceeds with the confirmation process.” Boozman, four years and nine months ago: “Americans deserve a voice in the future direction of the Supreme Court… [T]he next president should fill the vacancy.”
Enter Governor Hutchinson, in a statement on the nomination e-mailed by his press secretary. “A wise choice,” said Mr. Hutchinson, adding that Barrett “will make an excellent Supreme Court justice.” But at 4:55, why did it take him so long to say so? It might, might have nothing, nothing, to do with the billions of dollars funneled to Arkansas by the Affordable Care Act -- “Obamacare” — money that has bankrolled Mr. Hutchinson’s every budget, including its tax cuts. Money which, second only perhaps to abortion rights, Justice Barrett’s most fervent supporters (and Mr. Trump’s) are counting on her to terminate. Ending Obamacare would be only another in a series of torments — trade and tariffs confusion, coronavirus chaos — that Mr. Trump has inflicted on the governor, who has endorsed the president’s re-election. Besides, an abrupt end to the Affordable Care Act would burden him less than his successor.
Those would be successors: Rutledge, to Mr. Hutchinson’s unspoken dismay, has vigorously joined the effort to repeal Obamacare. Sanders has declared the law “a failure…a disaster” and, contrary to polling, that “Americans don’t want it.” Griffin noted, on a national index of GOP officials posted some time back, that he opposed Obamacare while in Congress; interestingly, his gubernatorial campaign website omits that fact.
Then state Sen. Jim Hendren, a potential candidate, who has said Arkansas’s adaptation of Obamacare is now “woven” into the state budget and thus essential:
As of this writing, he hasn’t tweeted a word about the Barrett nomination. He did post a quiet tribute to the justice Barrett would succeed, whose vote helped keep his state in the black. A firebrand become a fiduciary, Hendren counts as well as tweets and thinks before he does both, even when time is of the essence.
Steve Barnes is a veteran journalist and host of Arkansas PBS’s “Arkansas Week.”