Back when I was going through my CNN phase, I was covering a major espionage case. The counterintelligence peeps were holding an alleged spy in a secret location. On a day when he was due for a hearing, I had found out where he was being held: a jail in a rural Maryland county not far from Washington, D.C. We decided to pull a fast one and shoot some video of him that we otherwise would not get.
“You stay here, while I look around,” I said to my camera crew in a hushed voice. Then, doing my best imitation of Inspector Clouseau, I skulked around the property to determine the best spot from which to tape the deputies and agents as they took the accused to their vehicle for the ride to his Washington court hearing. I was chortling away about how surprised they’d be. My reverie was interrupted when I heard a voice: “Hey.” It was a deputy from the jail. “I think you should know you’ve set off about a dozen sensors.”
Happily, they got a good laugh out of it and took pity on me, showing us a vantage point where we could get the money shot. Score one for the klutzo reporter.
I hate to admit it, but the klutzo president was able to pull a fast one way better than I did. True, the first days of the Trump administration have been a total train wreck — or a plane wreck in the case of the immigration blockade. (I don’t want to call it a “ban,” because press secretary Sean Spicer argues that it is not a “ban,” even though his boss, President Donald Trump, calls it one.)
But setting aside the hard-right orientation of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Trump managed to put on a glitzy show with an announcement that was relatively sane-looking. More to the point, he pulled off an elaborate smooth move to hide the identity of his final pick and keep away reporters, aka “dishonest media,” who were camped out at the homes of the four perceived finalists. In Boulder, Colorado — where Gorsuch lives as possibly the only conservative in the Boulder area — he and his wife, Louise, were instructed to walk over to a neighbor’s house. There they met up with White House operatives, snuck into vehicles and were driven over back roads to a government plane waiting at a private airport. Then it was on to Washington, not to be seen by outsiders until they stepped through the doorway as part of the Donald Trump show on prime-time network TV.
POTUS was delighted at the game: “So, was that a surprise?” Trump exclaimed, “Was it?” Well, not really. He had promised he’d come up with a learned right-winger to replace “the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”
Even the most solemn moments for Donald Trump sound like a lounge act. But Gorsuch was the evening’s featured performer. He’s perhaps even more reactionary than Scalia, but he’s smooth as silk. For ultraconservatives, he hits all the right notes.
The Democrats are providing a lot of dissonance, of course. That’s partially because of the legal philosophies Gorsuch espouses. They despise them, but perhaps more than that, they bitterly resent the Republicans’ stonewalling of President Barack Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland. There are strong indications that they’ll filibuster Gorsuch just for spite. It would take 60 votes to stop that.
President Trump insists that if it happens, the majority Republicans should change Senate rules so that Supreme Court nominees require only a simple majority approval, the so-called nuclear option. Trump has never been a nuance kinda guy. In fairness, when the Democrats ran things, they got rid of the 60-vote rule for all White House appointments but Supreme Court justices. No matter how weighty the responsibility, someone, maybe everyone, will set off nasty alarms. Effective government is imprisoned by nasty partisanship.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.