Toomey at Chamber

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey meets with local leaders at the Lancaster Chamber, 115 E. King St. in Lancaster city Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

THE ISSUE

Among the issues now roiling our country — in addition to the fight for racial justice and angst over the recession and unemployment — are the COVID-19 pandemic and the battle over the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court left by Friday’s death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Raising the temperature: We’re just 41 days away from the presidential election.

It is hard on some days to remember that truth and fairness still matter.

But they do.

It’s just best that we don’t look to Washington, D.C., for examples of them.

Consider COVID-19. At a campaign rally Monday night, President Donald Trump claimed that COVID-19 “affects virtually nobody.”

“It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects,” Trump told his supporters. “Below the age of 18, like, nobody.”

Fact-check: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association, 587,948 total child COVID-19 cases were reported by states as of Sept. 17, and children represented 10.3% of all cases. More than 100 children have died from COVID-19 in the United States.

We’ve just passed a tragic and incomprehensible milestone: More than 200,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. And among that heartrending number are people of all ages — many of them elderly, but not all of them.

In March — when he still had the opportunity to prevent the deaths of tens of thousands — President Trump said this to journalist Bob Woodward: “Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob,” Trump said then. “But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older.”

He was right in March, speaking to a single journalist. He’s wrong now, speaking to the American public.

And the truth still matters, not least to the grieving families of the over 200,000 people we’ve lost to the highly infectious, lethal COVID-19.

Even though there’s been no national day of mourning — even as the president tries to minimize COVID-19’s threat in an effort to get reelected — we grieve for those who have been lost, here in Lancaster County and across the country.

The truth of what COVID-19 has done to this nation — what it’s been allowed to do because of inaction and incompetence — affects not just those who have lost loved ones.

Millions of Americans still struggle to make ends meet because the COVID-19 pandemic has crushed the economy. Families badly need a second stimulus check to tide them over. Hospitals need help as they anticipate a fall and winter dealing not just with COVID-19 but influenza. Schools need resources to keep students safely in school. Renters facing eviction, and landlords needing to pay their own bills, need financial assistance.

But the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has other priorities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to ram through a replacement for Justice Ginsburg.

Indeed, within a scant two hours of her death being reported, McConnell announced that he intended to hold a vote on whomever President Trump nominated to fill the vacancy.

Contrast that to McConnell’s action in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, and McConnell refused to grant President Barack Obama’s judicial pick, the moderate Merrick Garland, even a Senate hearing.

Why? Because it was a presidential election year.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said then. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution suggesting that a Supreme Court nominee cannot be considered in a presidential election year.

And Scalia, who was dedicated to following the Constitution as originally written, could have confirmed that.

But Republican senators, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, lined up behind McConnell.

Toomey, in a statement issued Feb. 15, 2016, said: “This decision should not be rushed, and it should not be made amid the clamoring of a presidential election season.”

Note the time element: When Toomey released his 2016 statement, 267 days remained before that year’s presidential election.

Now, the presidential election is already underway, as Americans in other states are casting ballots.

And now Toomey and McConnell have adjusted the made-up “rule” they touted in 2016 to suit their current purposes. Now, they say it’s perfectly fine to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in a presidential election year because the Senate and White House are controlled by the same party.

The straws have been grasped. The hypocrisy and shamelessness are crystal-clear.

Ironically, Toomey last week blasted the Democratic-majority Pennsylvania Supreme Court for ruling that mail-in ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. Election Day and received by county election boards by 5 p.m. Nov. 6 could be counted. In a statement, Toomey claimed the state’s highest court “has decided that laws have no meaning.”

He called that court’s decision “blatantly political.”

Please, Sen. Toomey: Look in the mirror.

McConnell and company can try to justify however they want their transgression now and their original sin in 2016. They can try to confuse voters with claims that Democrats are the real transgressors.

Toomey’s Tuesday statement: Every “single Democratic senator pushed for Judge Garland’s confirmation and told anyone who would listen that if Democrats controlled the Senate — that is, if they were in the position that Republicans are in today — they would have confirmed him. Are we now supposed to operate by two different sets of rules that systematically advantage the Democrats?”

Does the senator have a calendar and a calculator? Does he need to be shown the difference between voting on a Supreme Court nominee seven or eight months before an election and voting when an election is already underway?

And when Americans are suffering in a pandemic and there’s a pressing need for relief that only promises to become more urgent?

According to USA Today, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana told reporters Tuesday that he and his fellow Democrats can appeal to Republicans’ “sense of honesty and ethics. And that’s basically it.”

Honesty? Ethics? Fairness? Do they even mean anything anymore?

In our view, they must.

And we think they can be more readily found on the nearest child’s playground than in the moral vacuum that is Washington, D.C.