Last night, the Senate finally confirmed Roberta Jacobson to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, prompting Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to pat the chamber on the back. "The United States' relationship with Mexico is essential to our country's economy and security, and our Ambassador serves as a critical nexus for this partnership," Cornyn said after the vote. "Today is a key step towards filling what is a crucial diplomatic post not just to Texas, but for the nation as a whole."
What Cornyn neglected to mention is that Jacobson, a State Department veteran, was nominated nearly 11 months ago. Despite impeccable credentials and no real critics, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked her nomination because he doesn't like President Obama's policy towards Cuba.
If this is a "crucial diplomatic post" for the entire United States, why did it take 11 months for the Republican Senate to unanimously confirm an uncontroversial nominee?
The answer is this Senate just doesn't seem to function well. Remember the agreement on funding the federal Zika response that was supposed to be wrapped up today? Senators decided to punt on the issue for a while. Even far-right members are getting frustrated.
"I hope that there is real urgency about dealing with this," Rubio said. "I understand this is not a political issue. There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or Democrat position on Zika because these mosquitoes bite everyone. And they're not going to ask you what your party registration is or who you plan to vote for in November." [...] "My advice to my colleagues is we're going to deal with this, and I hope we deal with it at the front end, because not only is it better for our people, it's better for you," he added. "You're going to have to explain to people why it is that we sat around for weeks and did nothing on something of this magnitude."
Democrats said senators should stay in session until an agreement comes together. Republicans refused -- and then left town for a 10-day break. This comes on the heels of a two-week break in March, and it comes in advance of a seven-week break that starts in mid-July.
A qualified Supreme Court justice can't get a hearing; criminal-justice reform hasn't reached the floor; a Zika bill hasn't come together; and Senate action on Puerto Rico's fiscal problems keeps getting pushed off.
The Senate can't even deal with uncontroversial appropriations bills without breakdowns.
A few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) boasted on a talk-radio show, "[Y]ou know, this has been an incredibly productive new Senate majority. The American people, even though they chose divided government by having a Democrat in the White House and Republican House and Senate, we're not saying they didn't want us to do anything. They were saying, 'Why don't you look for things you can agree on and do those?'"
In some cases, congressional ineptitude isn't entirely the Senate's fault -- the upper chamber passed a good bill to address the opioid epidemic, but House Republicans don't like it -- though on balance, it's awfully tough to look at the world's most deliberative body and think of the phrase "incredibly productive."