Republican hardliners have come up with all sorts of excuses not to meet with any potential Obama SCOTUS nominee: there’s no historical precedent to do so in an election year, he’ll appoint a crazy liberal judge, they straight up hate him, etc. And they’ve complained over the last seven years that he refuses to compromise, citing his recent slew of executive orders as a sign he’s trailblazing an unchecked liberal path in defiance of one half of American power.
But then Orrin Hatch said this last week:
“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he told us, referring to the more centrist chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia who was considered and passed over for the two previous high court vacancies.
But, Hatch quickly added, “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
Even though numerous polls have shown that most Americans want Obama to nominate someone and for the senate to appoint someone to the Supreme Court, Republicans were, up until Wednesday, thinking that they could spin their obstruction in their favor if they insisted Obama was going to nominate a far-left liberal, and based that assumption on a poll:
“The survey found almost unanimous awareness of the death of Justice Scalia, strong support for originalist intent in interpreting the Constitution, and concern over President Obama appointing a liberal justice who would tip the ideological balance of the court,” Republican pollster Greg Strimple wrote in the memo.
Strimple found that 54 percent of those surveyed were more concerned about a liberal justice being chosen to replace Scalia, compare to the nearly 41 percent of respondents who were more worried about the seat being open for a year or more.
So, the logic goes, Republicans are right to stave off any nomination because Obama won’t be able to help himself but nominate the likes of Che Guevara. Of course, that didn’t happen, and Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a man well-received on both sides of the aisle and explicitly endorsed by Hatch. Will Hatch consider holding a hearing? Nope!
All this despite Hatch having said very nice things about Garland in 1997:
Oh, I know, I know. It’s from nearly twenty years ago. It’s when Garland was nominated for a lesser court. But the fact of the matter is that Hatch won’t even give a fair hearing to someone he really likes. So how, in the face of having his own suggestion for a nominee offered up to him, does Hatch justify his unwillingness to hold a hearing? Why, by stumbling over the same talking points!
From Talking Points Memo:
“I understand what you’re saying, sir, and I appreciate that, you know, it’s a crazy election year, and all. But by that reasoning, nothing would ever get done in an election year because it’s a toxic environment,” Cavuto said in response, suggesting that Republicans vote Garland down if they don’t like him, rather than refusing to hold hearings.
“Well it isn’t quite that simple,” Hatch replied, arguing that nominees should not be put up during election years.
When Cavuto asked why, Hatch said, “Because it’s a toxic environment, it demeans the court. People then make the court into a politicized institution.”
“It’s always politicized, senator,” Cavuto hit back. “It’s always politicized. And by that math you would just rule out the last year of any Congress, of any senator, of any president for getting stuff done.”
After more back and forth, Hatch again discussed politicization of the Supreme Court.
“I’m tired of the court being politicized. And this is politicizing the court during this particular year,” he said.
It couldn’t be more obvious what Hatch and other Republican senators who refuse ot budge are doing. Their first strategy of invoking the liberal bogeyman would have worked so long as Obama nominated someone who could be painted as a liberal, but instead he nominated Garland, about whom Republicans have said flowery things. Failing that, their new strategy is to just keep insisting they don’t have to meet with anyone because it’s an election year, and as everyone knows congress gets paid during election years but doesn’t have to actually do anything.
They won’t meet with Garland because they don’t want to have to say no right now. If they hold hearings with Garland and ultimately shoot him down, they’ll have to eventually settle for whomever Trump or Clinton nominates, whereas this way they can still appoint Garland in the ‘lame duck’ period between election day and inauguration.
My guess as to why they’re still being stubborn? Some of them are probably still hoping that the top of the Republican ticket can be salvaged in a brokered convention and that the establishment GOP candidate will somehow eke out a victory over Clinton and an inevitable third-party run from Trump. (Or vice versa, where Trump gets the nom and the GOP runs one of their boys third-party.) Not to mention that changing their minds and compromising are not really qualities of Republicans, and for all their talk about how weak Obama is, acquiescing to his nomination might bite them in the ass.
But that was before their base turned against them. Republicans are so vulnerable right now that they genuinely seem confused as to who and try to appease: their more reasonable voters who are probably lukewarm about their stubbornness and fear a very liberal judge in the event of a Clinton victory, or their far-right base who are attracted to this kind of ‘screw you’ attitude but who have migrated to the Trump and Cruz camps. Regardless of which way they go, they’re basically hanging themselves, because the kind of voter they’re trying to attract with their barrage of mixed messages does not exist in very large numbers.