Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

What McConnell is missing in the debate over FBI background checks

Updated

As things stand, Americans know of two women, Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, who’ve accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Both women have said they’d welcome FBI scrutiny of their claims, under threat of perjury, which would seem to lend credence to their allegations.

For reasons the party has yet to fully explain, Republicans have steadfastly opposed FBI involvement. The initial line from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for example, was, “The FBI does not do investigations like this.” It was a curious position, since the FBI always does background checks on Supreme Court nominees. This was soon followed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who argued that his aides on the Judiciary Committee could examine the allegations on their own, which was equally tough to defend.

Last night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) published a tweet featuring a video from the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991, in which then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) addressed the issue of FBI background checks. Biden said at the time:

“The FBI explicitly does not, in this or any other case, reach a conclusion. Period…. When people wave an FBI report before you, understand, They do not, they do not, they do not reach conclusions. They do not, as my friend points out more accurately, make recommendations.”

In his online message, McConnell said, “My Democrat [sic] friends might want to consider this.”

He didn’t say why Democratic senators should consider this, which is a shame because it’s not at all clear what McConnell considers important about Biden’s 1991 comments.

This need not be complicated: no one has suggested that the FBI reach conclusions or make recommendations in the case of Kavanaugh’s accusers. Rather, the accusers’ attorneys and several Democratic lawmakers have argued that the bureau examine the claims as part of the FBI’s background check into the Supreme Court nominee.

The point isn’t to conduct a criminal probe. It’s not about the FBI telling policymakers whose version of events is the truth. The purpose would be to provide senators with the best available facts, which they could then consider before deciding whether to give a nominee a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court.

If the confirmation process is effectively a long and detailed job interview, the FBI’s background check is intended to give the interviewers the most complete information possible, not only to better evaluate the candidate, but also to help the interviewers know what questions to ask.

For now, Republicans continue to insist that the FBI play no role in this process. We’re still waiting for a good explanation for this position.