‘Only a ghoul would tweet something like this’: Republican senators under fire for online responses to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Iowa senator Joni Ernst is fighting to keep her seat (Getty Images)
Iowa senator Joni Ernst is fighting to keep her seat (Getty Images)

Several Republican senators have been heavily criticised for their public responses to the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – one of them for sending out fundraising messages just minutes after her death.

First-term Iowa senator Joni Ernst, whose chances of re-election are on a knife-edge, expressed her condolences at Justice Ginsburg’s passing on Twitter – only for her campaign to send out fundraising messages.

Local political news site Iowa Starting Line reported that just 10 minutes after the announcement of Justice Ginsburg’s death, the Ernst campaign sent Supreme Court-themed calls for donations by both texts and emails.

While the text message did not refer specifically to Justice Ginsburg’s passing, its content was all too resonant: “The next Supreme Court Justice will be decided by Dems if we lose the White House and the Senate. Help hold the line.” Included was a link to a fundraising page.

Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson, meanwhile, described a campaign email with the subject line “BREAKING: the future of the Supreme Court is on the line”.

After the messages went out and the Starting Line and other local sites picked up the story, Ms Ernst released a statement on the email: “Though I never saw it,” she said, “it was sent out under my name and I take responsibility. Tonight, my prayers are with the family of Justice Ginsburg.”

Whereas Ms Ernst’s response to the news was a matter of campaign messages clashing with personal statements, other senators made no effort to separate them. Georgia senator Kelly Loeffler, also on the ballot in less than seven weeks, combined her empathetic and political feelings in a single tweet.

“My prayers are with the Ginsburg family,” she wrote. “Our country’s future is at stake & @realDonaldTrump has every right to pick a new justice before the election. I look forward to supporting a strict constructionist who will protect the right to life & safeguard our conservative values.”

Certain of her constituents were less than pleased. “Have some decency,” wrote lawyer Michael Ridgway Jones. “The body’s not even cold yet.”

Ms Loeffler’s election effort has been complicated by allegations that she sold off millions of dollars in stock after receiving a confidential Senate briefing on the coronavirus’s likely economic impact – while also downplaying the pandemic in public.

In Arizona, meanwhile, senator Martha McSally tweeted a salute to Justice Ginsburg, saying she “broke barriers for all women” and again offering her prayers to the justice’s family. However, 15 minutes later, she sent a very different message: “This US Senate should vote on President Trump's next nominee for the US Supreme Court.”

As did Ms Ernst and Ms Loeffler, she faced an immediate wave of scorn from social media users. “Only a ghoul would tweet something like this hours after the passing of RBG,” wrote Ann Lewis Hamilton.

Ms McSally was appointed to her seat, not elected, and is polling well behind her Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly. Some state election law experts recently told the Arizona Republic that because the McSally-Kelly race is a special election rather than a typical six-yearly contest, whoever wins could be sworn in during the lame duck session that follows the 3 November election.

Were Mr Kelly to win, that would bring the Republican majority in the Senate down from 53 to 52 – and one current Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, has already said she will not vote for a nominee before the election.

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