What exactly did Texas Sen. John Cornyn accomplish by holding up — for a single day — a vote on fellow Sen. Hillary Clinton's nomination as secretary of state?
I mean, other than act like the kid in class who'll take any attention even if it's negative just to get noticed?
And what did he prove by helping to delay the vote on attorney general nominee Eric Holder?
That is, other than to show fundamental misunderstanding of — if not complete disregard for — prosecutorial independence?
Cornyn has acted the obstructionist while protesting that he's standing up for openness and high ethics and other laudable principles. But on closer inspection, it looks more like posturing that has accomplished little of substance for the people he's supposed to be serving.
Take the Clinton business, for instance. Foreign donations to Bill Clinton's foundation, and public disclosure of them — the topic that Cornyn said needed debating — was a legitimate issue, one that rightly concerned several senators. In fact, Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican, raised it at Clinton's confirmation hearing and urged her to take specific steps to avoid conflicts or their appearance.
So, did Cornyn produce any real debate about it by denying President Barack Obama confirmation of Clinton on Inauguration Day? No — and surely Cornyn knew he wouldn't. There was more debate off the floor over why Cornyn was grandstanding.
Did he vote against Clinton to demonstrate his seriousness or underscore his misgivings? No — and surely he knew all along that he wouldn't. (Cornyn joined the 94-2 majority.)
After Holder flatly opined that waterboarding is torture, Cornyn essentially wanted him to promise that the Justice Department wouldn't prosecute any intelligence officers who might have engaged in the practice during the Bush administration.
There's legitimate debate over whether criminal charges can or should be brought against those who interrogated suspected terrorists or those who authorized their actions with the cover of Justice Department legal memos allowing extreme measures including waterboarding.
During Holder's confirmation hearing, Cornyn tried to get the nominee to say whether waterboarding would be unacceptable even to save tens of thousands of American lives. But Holder was too smart to fall into that trap.
As a former judge, U.S. attorney and Justice official, Holder also knows that no reputable prosecutor would categorically commit one way or the other about pursuing a case without first reviewing the facts and the law involved.
As a former judge and Texas attorney general, Cornyn surely knows that, too.
And if it were Democrats wanting Holder to firmly commit — before studying the evidence — that he would prosecute torturers, Cornyn would have a fit. And with some justification.
Interestingly enough, statements by Cornyn's fellow Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have widely been interpreted as telling him he was wrong to hold up Clinton and to try extracting an unreasonable pledge from Holder.
Cornyn voted against Holder when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved him Wednesday 17-2.
In a headscratcher on Monday, Cornyn voted for Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary, despite his sloppy taxpaying delinquencies and even though 34 other senators, including three Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders, dissented.
The role of Congress is not administration cheerleader but equal partner in the constitutional scheme. That sometimes entails butting heads. But shouldn't the point be to advance good policies or put the brakes on bad ones — not just to get C-SPAN face time?
Cornyn might need to saber-rattle in his new role as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, but his latest antics only add to the buffoonery aspects of his reputation.
Remember his completely off-the-point attack on an animal-rights zealot during Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s 2006 confirmation hearing?
Remember Cornyn's 2005 rant all but blaming a spate of violence against judges on judge themselves for making unpopular rulings?
These sorts of things only detract from the good, bipartisan legislation he's pushed to strengthen open records laws.
Cornyn's a personable guy. He's approachable and did some admirable work as Texas AG. But in Washington he's gone from disappointing to dismaying.
On Jan. 6, when he was sworn in to a second term, the Star-Telegram's Maria Recio quoted Cornyn as saying, "I have a lot of anticipation and hope for a good working relationship with our Democratic colleagues."
His actions so far speak louder than those words.