When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last month, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) embraced some unfortunate rhetorical excesses. Indeed, in some instances, he was arguably hysterical, urging the GOP to "build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office."
That was last month's fight. This month's fight is over a human-trafficking bill, which used to enjoy bipartisan support until Republican senators added an anti-abortion provision. The debate has led Kirk to once again use some truly bizarre rhetoric.
"[Senate Democrats] are making the same mistake that Democrats made in the 1850s when they defended slavery," he said. "We should all be neo-abolitionists here, to make sure that there is no right in America to enslave others using the Internet."
Look, we can have a spirited conversation about the parties and ideologies of the mid-19th century, but to suggest modern-day Democrats are defending slavery is just bonkers.
The legislative history here isn't complicated: there was bipartisan support for the human-trafficking bill. Then Democrats learned that Republicans quietly inserted an anti-abortion provision into the legislation, prompting Dems to ask that the bill be put back the way it was. The GOP has refused, so the bill is stuck.
This is a substantive disagreement over a policy. It's not a defense of slavery.
Kirk must understand this because he also told Roll Call yesterday that he wishes his own party "hadn't junked that bill up with abortion politics." He added that the GOP majority should act "as a governing party, always keep bills focused on their main purpose, not link them to the hot social issues of our time."
If Democrats agree with this Mark Kirk sentiment, they're "making the same mistake that Democrats made in the 1850s when they defended slavery"?
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that he'll bring the same bill to the floor again tomorrow, so that Democrats can block it again, just like they did yesterday. Why bother? Because watching the same bill fail over and over again -- instead of doing real work -- apparently makes the GOP leadership feel better.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters this morning that senators' time could be better spent. "Another wasted week," Reid said.
It's worth noting that next week is the last work week before the Senate takes another two-week break. It leaves the chamber's Republican leadership with a choice: improve the human-trafficking bill to secure bipartisan support, or keep spinning the Senate's wheels until mid-April.