In a surprising development, New York Senator Chuck Schumer appeared to downplay the significance of torture in determining whether to confirm Michael Mukasey. “No nominee from this administration will agree with us on torture and wiretapping,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday. “The best we can hope for is someone who will rebuild the Justice Department and remain independent, even when pressured by this administration.” It is a truly unbelievable statement for those who have struggled to get the democrats to finally fight on principle. Just because a president intends to send people who refuse to denounce torture, it does not mean that the Senate should yield and confirm them. This is not a question of “agreeing with us,” this is established law that makes waterboarding a form of torture. For Schumer to express such willingness to forgive Mukasey on the torture question undermines the international calls for the Senate to hold firm on the question as a matter of basic human rights. Schumer’s comments would also explain why the Democrats have done none of things that would normally occur in a serious effort to fight the nomination. They have not seriously delayed the vote to allow opposition to be heard. They have not called a hearing on waterboarding to show that this is a clear issue. They have not confronted their colleagues on a basic question of human rights. It is not surprising that many feel that the fix is in for confirmation — as was the case on so many of matters of civil liberties with the Democrat Senate. For a column, click here
Schumer’s connections to Mukasey are deep. He lobbied for Mukasey to head the Justice Department eight months ago and his counsel is a former federal prosecutor in the Manhattan courts that were overseen by Mukasey. However, with his colleagues standing firm against torture, it is perfectly bizarre for Schumer to vote for him. After Schumer has opposed nominations on far less of a record, such as the recent Southwick confirmation. His own colleague from New York, Sen. Clinton, and his roommate, Sen. Durbin, has stood against confirmation on this core principle.
What is particularly distressful is that Schumer might cave after the President made another open play on his 9-11 theme to scare Democrats back into their bunkers. Not only has he made this a vote on the war on terror but is now insisting that he might not send another nominee and just take his jacks home. Why on Earth would Schumer, Feinstein, and Feingold be on the fence on such a clear and compelling issue?