None down, with thanks to Harry Reid.
The senators haven’t voted yet, but shmear thick enough for a sesame bagel is turning out to be less than promised. None of Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices looks in danger, or even damaged by the week’s confirmation hearings.
Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator, infuriated some of his colleagues by breaking precedent — precedent being very important to senators of all persuasions — to testify against Jeff Sessions, and in the event he fired blanks, all of them wet. He repeated 30-year-old sentiments that in the unlikely event Mr. Sessions is not a bigot or a racist, he’s certainly not a nice guy.
Other senators clearly didn’t like that. The elfin Jeff Sessions is one of the most popular members of the Senate. Even the harshest of the Yankees forgive him his Alabama birth, some of the time. They envy the polite and courtly manner that does not come easily to those who are not Southern by the grace of God.
At the end of a week of media bluster by those still competing to see who can say the meanest things about the man who crushed their candidate in November, none of the Cabinet nominees are bloodied or even bruised. Democrats in the Senate can only curse Harry Reid, the former senator from Nevada and leader of the vanished Democratic majority, whose “nuclear option,” changing the rules to require only a simple majority to confirm high federal appointments, stands revealed as an unforced error.
Harry wasn’t the genius he told everyone he was. He thought Democratic hegemony, with only brief interruptions from time to time, would run for as long as the wind blows, the sun shines and rivers run free. He wanted to give Barack Obama (remember him?) lots of running room.
If he had left the rules alone, requiring 66 votes to confirm, the Donald’s prospective Cabinet might now be a happy hunting ground for Democratic snipers and rock-chunkers. Sometimes a genius can be too clever by half, or at least by 1/4th.
The other target that didn’t turn out to be an easy mark is Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state. He had what the media calls “a tense time,” but all confirmation hearings are tense. There’s rarely cake-walking to the Cabinet room.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, he of late presidential aspirations, grilled the nominee about his admiration for Vladimir the Intruder, the president of Russia and said to be author of hacks into the Hillary Clinton campaign. Mr. Rubio hinted that he might join John McCain and his sidekick, Lindsey Graham, in voting against Mr. Tillerson’s confirmation.
“I have to make sure I’m 100 percent behind whatever decision I make,” Mr. Rubio said, “because when I make it, it isn’t going to change.” Well, maybe. Mr. Rubio held six different positions on immigration reform during his presidential campaign, forever licking his finger and putting it to whatever wind that blew, until a stiff breeze finally blew him and his finger away.
Mr. Rubio, obviously trying to draw a portrait of a man with a taste for dictators, pushed Mr. Tillerson to say what he thinks of Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines who feeds at the bottom of any stream he happens upon, and the royals in Saudi Arabia, whose harsh Islamic government makes being a woman a nasty misdemeanor, if not a high crime. The nominee, portraying himself as a man who doesn’t read he newspapers, didn’t bite. “I’m going to act on factual information,” he said. “I’m not going to act on what people write about in the newspapers.”
He had a tutorial nonetheless for Mr. Rubio: “My interests are the same as yours. Our interests are not different, senator. There seems to be some misunderstanding that I see the world through a different lens. I do not. I share all the same values you share and want the same things, the world over, in terms of freedom.”
He had a tutorial as well about what to do about Vladimir Putin. “We aren’t likely to ever be friends. Our value systems are starkly different. We need to move Russia from being an adversary always to being a partner sometimes.”
Mr. Tillerson, a billionaire who sprang from humble Texas origins, got a few kind words from an elite or two. Robert Gates, the former secretary of defense who served both former President George W. Bush and President Obama, told the senators that Mr. Tillerson is “the right person at the right time.” Sam Nunn, once a Democratic senator from Georgia, reminded the senators that the nominee’s relationships with Russia and Mr. Putin are “assets, not liabilities.”
And so it goes, moving inexorably toward Jan. 20, when all things will be made new — if only for a little while.
• Wesley Pruden is editor-in-chief of The Times.
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.