This week in politics: Ukraine and Supreme Court nominee hearings

Between the war in Ukraine and the upcoming confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Kentaji Brown Jackson, political divisions are emerging. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the political implications on these topics and provide some historical context for the way Americans think about war.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on how the war is playing out politically here at home and a look at the upcoming Supreme Court nomination hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, I spoke with NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

    Jeff, as this war in Ukraine continues, there are some surveys now that say that Americans would be willing to pay a little bit higher at the gas pump or rally around the flag.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, surveys have also shown that Americans want to eat more vegetables and watch more documentaries on television. But the broader point is that this famous line that politics stops at the water's edge, it's very rarely true. Even when we've had wars like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, there've been huge divisions. And even in World War II, which is often cited as the great unifying war, there was enough discontent with how the war was being fought and the burdens on the home front that in the 1942 midterms, a year after Pearl Harbor, the Democrats lost 44 House and nine Senate seats. So you have to be careful before you assert, Yeah, no, this is going to make everybody rally around the flag.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And even in this response, we're starting to see the partisanship and the polarization that we're now getting used to.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It's, yes, very sharply, very quickly, I think, Ted Cruz said in so many words that it was Biden that caused the invasion by Putin, and other Republicans have pointed everything from the botched withdrawal in Afghanistan to the fact that they feel Biden hasn't been strong enough. And in response, Democrats say, You know, you remember Trump all but tried to eradicate NATO. He was Putin's best buddy. He was pointing the finger at Ukraine for political reasons. So, yeah, there's been an enormous amount of polarization, and I think that's going to have some impact in whether or not the country stays united.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We do have one other bit of news on Capitol Hill that will happen this week, which is the Supreme Court nomination. What do you expect?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Not anything very inspiring. Before she was on the Supreme Court, when Elena Kagan was an academic, she wrote an article about these hearings and she called them a vague and hollow charade. I don't even know where they call them hearings because nobody listens. Senators don't really ask questions. They bloviate. They give 10-minute speeches to make political points, depending on the nominee either buttressing the nominee or trying to attack them. And the broader point here, I think, is that you don't learn anything about what these justices mean because they've all almost all been told, don't make any statements about how you might rule. So it's it's, it's theater is what it is.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And even in this case, it completely goes down along partisan lines. I mean, there are now people who are on this committee that are concerned about the fact that as a public defender, she defended men at Guantanamo Bay and saying, Hey, she's somebody who defends terrorists.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Let me broaden that point a little bit. When Antonin Scalia, a committed judicial conservative, was nominated by Reagan, he was confirmed 98 to nothing. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated by Clinton and actually told the committee, Yeah, I'm going to support abortion rights, she was confirmed 96 to three. Today, it's almost unimaginable that a nominee from a president of one party is going to get more than a handful of votes from the other party, from senators. In fact, when Jackson was nominated for the Court of Appeals, when usually senators give a president a lot more deference because it's a lower court, she got all of three Republican votes.

    And there's one other point I think to your point, these hearings often are staging areas for political arguments. When Barrett, Amy Barrett was nominated, the Democrats used it to say, You're going to kill Obamacare. And here's what's terrible about Trump's health plan, by the way, she didn't. And to your point, we're now hearing, well, she was a public defender. We're looking at all the terrible people she defended. She was on a sentencing commission that unanimously argued for lower sentences. She's soft on sexual offenders. And that's because crime, as we talked about a few weeks ago, is an ascending issue. And the Republicans want to make sure that the country, to the extent anybody listens, is hearing that this nominee is, to use the old phrase, soft on crime. And that's why the idea that you know, there's going to be any light as opposed to heat out of these hearings. I wouldn't put a whole lot of money on it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Good to be with you, Hari.

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