While conspiracy theorists continue to suss out the real cause of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, both sides of the Senate are preparing themselves for a long, insane fight over his replacement. Does Obama stand a chance of getting a nominee confirmed in the next 11 months? Here’s how the battle’s looking so far.
“What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?”
Mere hours after Scalia’s death on Saturday, Senate Republicans made it clear that they have no plans to confirm any Supreme Court nominee Obama puts forth, because uggghhh it’s not fair. Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mike Lee, tweeted this:
What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice to replace Scalia?— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) February 13, 2016
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement confirming that Republican senators have no plans to confirm anyone. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
Days later, however, other Senate Republicans have said they would be open to at least holding hearings about nominees (as a defense against Democrats calling them obstructionists). Drama!!!
“President Obama can nominate people until his heart’s content”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is certainly not jumping at the chance to confirm a nominee, but he has so far declined to say that he won’t even consider any. Grassley told The Washington Post Tuesday that he is taking it “a step at a time” and will “wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision” about holding hearings. Judiciary Committee member Sen. Thom Tillis suggested to the Post that the Senate should hold hearings, so that Republicans don’t “fall into the trap of being obstructionist.”
This kind of talk does not make right-wing donor groups happy. To be clear, holding hearings would be a hollow gesture on Republicans’ part, not a real first step toward confirming a nominee, but even the idea of a making that gesture has flustered Tea Party organizations like FreedomWorks.
In an interview with Talking Points Memo today, the executive director of FreedomWorks, Curt Levey, said, “The strategy that makes the most sense is to say that there should not be any consideration of this nominee. It would be irrelevant to have a hearing because it’s the situation: the fact that it’s an election year, the fact that his policies are before the court, the fact that the court is so finely balanced at the moment.”
Travis Weber at The Family Research Council (where Josh Duggar used to work) also told TPM that the Senate should not hold any hearings. “The Senate is under no obligation to consider [nominees],” he said. “President Obama can nominate people until his heart’s content and they have no obligation to look at them one way or another, given the gravity of the moment.”
All of these groups have pointed to McConnell’s original statement as the strategy Republicans should carry out. If McConnell has a change of heart, he will have to answer to a lot of angry conservatives who think he already drew the right line in the sand.
“We should reverse the presumption of confirmation”
What are the Democrats doing, amidst all of this? Trying to convince everyone they wouldn’t block nominees like Republicans if the situation was reversed. Republicans have latched on to a speech Sen. Chuck Schumer made in 2007 that the declared the Senate should “reverse the presumption of confirmation” for justices. He said:
“We should reverse the presumption of confirmation [for justices]. The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice [John Paul] Stevens replaced by another [John] Roberts, or Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg by another [Samuel] Alito. Given the track record of this president and the experience of obfuscation at the hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least, I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee except in extraordinary circumstances. They must prove by actions—not words— that they are in the mainstream, rather than the Senate proving that they are not.”
Republicans are now calling this the “Schumer Standard.” Burn!!! Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said on Dallas radio yesterday, “We’re embracing this precedent that Sen. Chuck Schumer advocated for back in 2007...If it’s good enough for them when they’re in the majority, then it’s good enough for us when we are. This is a hypocritical argument on the part of Sen. Schumer.”
For his part, Schumer now says that what he was talking about in 2007 is way different than what Republicans are talking about now. He wrote a post on Medium (lol) claiming that the GOP is comparing “apples to oranges.”
“What I said in the speech given in 2007 is simple: Democrats, after a hearing, should entertain voting no if the nominee is out of the mainstream and tries to cover that fact up,” he wrote. “There was no hint anywhere in the speech that there shouldn’t be hearings or a vote. Only that if after hearings and a vote, Democrats determined that the nominee was out of the mainstream and trying to hide it, they should have no qualms about voting no.”
This has not convinced any Republicans to stop hammering Schumer to justify their own obstructionism. Everyone’s a hypocrite.