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“GOP Hypocrisy On Public Display”: Garland Nomination Forces GOP To Defend The Indefensible

Apparently, President Barack Obama still believes that congressional Republicans can be shamed.

Apparently, he thinks he can persuade GOP senators to consider his Supreme Court nominee with an implicit threat to expose them as hypocrites, obstructionists and revanchists if they refuse.

Has Obama learned nothing over the past eight years? The GOP Congress is shameless.

Although Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear within hours of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that he would refuse to consider — no hearings, much less a vote — any nominee Obama proposes, the president went ahead and performed the duties assigned to him by the U.S. Constitution: He selected a worthy nominee to fill the vacancy.

And not just a worthy nominee, but also one whose credentials, in a rational political world, would draw broad bipartisan support. That nominee is Judge Merrick Garland.

Chosen for a seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton, Garland is a centrist who is highly regarded throughout Washington. He’s a former prosecutor; as a Justice Department lawyer, he oversaw the trial team that prosecuted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols. In his 1997 confirmation, he received 32 Republican votes, seven from senators still serving.

Allow me to make a prediction: None of that matters. McConnell will still refuse to hold hearings on Garland’s nomination, no matter how much his party’s hypocrisy is held up to public view. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 63 percent of Americans believe the Senate should at least hold hearings on Obama’s nominee.

So what? Garland and Obama had barely left the Rose Garden, where the announcement was held, when McConnell reiterated his pledge to stonewall. “The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country,” he said, “so of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction.”

I have news for the Senate majority leader. The American people had their say in 2012, when they re-elected Obama with 51 percent of the vote, 5 million more votes than Mitt Romney received. And Obama is still the president. There is nothing in the nation’s founding document that suggests the chief executive should forfeit his duties during his final year.

Count me among those who wish that Obama had nominated a black woman, a first for the nation’s highest court. Not only would GOP obstruction in the face of a highly qualified black female jurist have likely motivated an enthusiastic turnout among Democratic voters in the fall, but it would also be an important symbol in a diverse country. Black women are a crucial part of the progressive coalition, and there are plenty among that cohort who would be excellent choices, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch and U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Of course, such a nominee would likely have given up any chance to actually serve on the Supreme Court, since Republicans would have taken the next several months to mount a smear campaign against her. That would have made her toxic, even if Obama’s successor is a Democrat.

The same applies to Garland, who has agreed to take one for the team. He’s smart enough to know the political calculus: Obama picked him to force Republicans to defend their indefensible position.

Already, conservative groups are gearing up to spend millions to make sure no weak-kneed Republicans fall out of lockstep with the marching orders from on high. (If you’re sick of seeing millions spent secretly to dominate the political process, by the way, you should pay attention to the Supreme Court. The Citizens United case, which allows corporations to spend freely on elections, was brought to you by a high court dominated by conservatives.)

If nothing else, this ought to bring to an end to the attempts by some Washington observers to pin the blame for the reckless partisanship that threatens to swamp the ship of state equally on Democrats and Republicans, on Obama and his GOP antagonists. That’s just nonsense.

It ought to be clear by now that the GOP’s one remaining principle is to oppose Obama at every turn — and utterly without shame.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 18, 2016

March 19, 2016 Posted by | GOP, Merrick Garland, Mitch Mc Connell, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shredding Their Own Talking Points”: Senate Republicans Turn Their Principles Into A Punch Line

Before President Obama even introduced Merrick Garland as his Supreme Court nominee, Senate Republicans said they had little choice but to impose an impenetrable blockade. Their “principles,” GOP senators said, made any other course of action impossible.

First, for example, Republicans said their principles required them to honor the “tradition that both parties have lived by for over 80 years” about high-court vacancies that occur during a president’s eighth year. Soon after, Republicans sheepishly acknowledged that “tradition” doesn’t exist.

Republicans then said their principles about the Supreme Court have nothing do to with partisanship. Soon after, they quietly conceded that if a GOP president were in office, the blockade wouldn’t exist.

Republicans then said their opposition to Garland’s nomination has nothing to do with Garland specifically or his qualifications, but rather, the party’s principles about election-year confirmation votes. Soon after, the Republican National Committee released an oppo dump on Garland – a judge Republicans and conservatives have praised for years – which pointed in the opposite direction of their purported principles.

And finally, Republicans said their principles require them to keep this vacancy in place so that “the next president” can fill it, Garland’s merits notwithstanding. Except, many GOP senators have decided not to take this principle seriously, either.

Sen. Orrin Hatch on Thursday blasted the notion that the Senate would consider the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland before November – but suggested he would be open to confirming him if Hillary Clinton wins the general election and doesn’t announce her own choice. […]

Hatch remarked that it is possible that Garland could undergo a confirmation process during the lame-duck session following the Nov. 8 election, but that is largely contingent upon who the next president would be.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I honestly can’t remember the last time Republicans went so far to shred their own talking points in public. According to Orrin Hatch, the GOP’s blockade against Garland has nothing to do with partisanship or even the judge’s nomination on the merits, but rather, this is solely about principle.

Unless, of course, Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, at which point the GOP will gladly throw their principles out the window. Hatch isn’t the only one, either.

We’re talking about elected senators who aren’t even trying to work in good faith. Some of these Republicans seem quite comfortable appearing nakedly partisan, abandoning any sense of propriety or responsibility, as if they simply don’t care whether or not they appear ridiculous.

In fairness, there are some exceptions. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) conceded yesterday, “We can’t have it both ways.” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee, agreed and said he intended to stick to the underlying principle.

But these positions are not guiding Republican tactics, at least not right now. The GOP game plan is as follows:

1.Impose an eight-month blockade on the Garland nomination, unlike anything ever seen in American history, including a prohibition on floor votes and confirmation hearings.

2.Wait for the election results in November.

3.If a Republican wins the presidency, do nothing.

4.If Hillary Clinton wins, revisit the blockade and consider confirming Garland during the lame-duck session between Election Day and the start of the new Congress in 2017.

The benefit to Republicans would be obvious: they’d confirm a 63-year-old moderate, rather than let Clinton nominate someone younger and more liberal. At that point, GOP senators appear craven and unprincipled, but by all appearances, Republicans just don’t care.

And while GOP senators may not be concerned about their reputations or their ability to take pride in their public service, they should be concerned with the details of the nominating process: if Clinton wins and Republicans decide to move forward on Garland, President Obama could always withdraw the nomination during the lame-duck session and empower his Democratic successor to start the process anew in the new year.

If Republicans aren’t prepared to take their own principles seriously, no one else will, either.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 17, 2016

March 18, 2016 Posted by | Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Outsourcing Constitutional Responsibilities”: Senate Republicans Will Ignore Court Nominee, But RNC Won’t

Any day now, President Obama is expected to announce his nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, and the political battle lines have already been drawn. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans remain committed to a partisan blockade, unlike anything ever seen in American history, that calls for the rejection of any presidential nominee, regardless of qualifications or merit.

But while the Senate’s Republican majority intends to ignore the White House’s choice, the Republican National Committee intends to do the opposite. The Associated Press reported this morning:

The Republican Party is launching a campaign to try to derail President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, teaming up with a conservative opposition research group to target vulnerable Democrats and impugn whomever Obama picks.

A task force housed within the Republican National Committee will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach…. The RNC will contract with America Rising Squared, an outside group targeting Democrats that’s run by a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said his attack operation would “make sure Democrats have to answer to the American people for why they don’t want voters to have a say in this process.” Priebus added that the White House is poised to “break with decades of precedent.”

Republicans, the RNC chair went on to say, are “going to vet that person and put their real record on display.”

At face value, most of the RNC’s rhetoric is plainly laughable. Obviously, no one is trying to deny voters a role in the process – voters are the ones who elected President Obama (twice), giving him the authority to act. It’s equally obvious that the “decades of precedent” talking point is brazenly untrue, as even some Senate Republicans have been willing to acknowledge.

But just below the surface, there’s something even more ridiculous going on.

For example, the RNC is going to have a tough time pitching their opposition to the unnamed nominee as sincere and principled if the party launches its partisan war against him or her before knowing who the nominee is. There’s an important difference between, “This is a horrible choice,” and “We have no idea who the choice will be, but we’re sure it’ll be horrible.”

It’s the sort of posture that leads more to eye-rolling than meaningful debate.

Perhaps more importantly, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent raised an overlooked detail.

Ideally, of course, [the vetting of the nominee] is what would happen if the Senate were to hold hearings on that person. But that might afford the nominee a chance to directly respond to his or her Republican cross-examiners in a high profile setting (as opposed to only having Democratic groups mounting all the pushback, which of course they will also do, once there is a nominee). Direct exchanges between the nominee and Republican Senators, alas, might reflect well on that person. And so the only “vetting” and examination of the nominee’s “real record” will be undertaken through the RNC and associated GOP-aligned groups.

That’s not meant as sarcasm. It’s the actual Republican party-wide position right now.

Quite right. Under the American political process, the Senate is supposed to oversee the formal vetting of a Supreme Court nominee. In 2016, however, Senate Republicans don’t want to – so they’re outsourcing the vetting to the Republican National Committee.

What should be done by senators and officials – people who are ultimately accountable to the public – will instead be done by partisan operatives.

There is no precedent for anything like this in the American tradition. Senate Republicans and the RNC evidently don’t care.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 14, 2016

March 15, 2016 Posted by | Republican National Committee, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“That 1992 Clip Of Biden Is Very Misleading”: No, Joe Biden Is Not A Supreme Court Hypocrite

It’s a mighty thin reed that Republican leaders hang onto when they selectively cite then-Sen. Joe Biden’s remarks from 24 years ago as evidence to deny any Obama appointee to the Supreme Court a fair hearing and a vote. President Obama is right in saying, “We all know senators say stuff all the time,” and the excerpt Mitch McConnell and the other Republican leaders cite to support their obstructionism is not what Biden was saying when he spoke at length on the Senate floor in late June 1992.

It was the end of the court’s term, a time when aging justices often hand down their resignations. There were retirement rumors about 83-year-old Justice Harry Blackmun. Biden, in his role as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wanted to discourage Blackmun from stepping down and the Bush White House from thinking it could confirm a replacement before the election now five months away.

There was no vacancy on the court, and Biden wanted to keep it that way. In just two weeks, the Republicans would hold their party convention with President George H.W. Bush running for re-election in a highly charged three-person race against Democrat Bill Clinton and Independent Ross Perot. In the Senate, hard feelings lingered from the previous October’s Anita Hill hearings, and Biden warned that if the administration tried to get one or the other justices to resign in order to create a vacancy, he wasn’t inclined to go along with that.

And if they did—and here’s the olive branch, which funny enough isn’t getting much air time as the old clip is replayed—he would consider confirmation of a nominee in the Kennedy mode, as in Justice Anthony Kennedy, a solid but conservative-leaning jurist who was confirmed unanimously in February 1988, Ronald Reagan’s last year in office. Biden didn’t in any way say or imply he wouldn’t be holding hearings, or that he would do what McConnell and the other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are doing, which is sight unseen refusing to hold hearings or to even meet with the nominee.

It is a show of disrespect not only for Obama but also for the Constitution and the executive’s role to propose and the Senate’s to advise and consent. McConnell gleefully cited the cherry-picked Biden excerpt as proof of what would happen “if the shoe were on the other foot.” But if that were true, the GOP would at least go through the motions before regretfully finding the nominee is an extremist they can’t support. That would be rough politics as usual.

The bigger question: Will anyone nominated be out of the running for Hillary Clinton, if she’s the next president? Or will that person move to the front of the queue? Will Republicans feel compelled to go after that person with extra zeal? And given these unknowns, who would say yes to Obama?

Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, presiding over two of the most contentious nominations in history, Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Bork’s “originalism,” in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, sparked strong opposition and his extensive writings gave critics plenty to work with. The assault was brutal, giving rise to the verb, to be “borked.” Biden won praise for challenging Bork on certain rights to privacy that he rejected because they weren’t enumerated in the Constitution. The full Senate rejected Bork 58-42, with six Republicans joining 52 Democrats to vote against him.

The Anita Hill hearings in October 1991 were not Biden’s finest hour, and his role chairing those hearings will be reprised in the HBO movie Confirmation, airing on April 11 and starring Kerry Washington as Hill, Wendell Pierce as Clarence Thomas, and Greg Kinnear as Biden.

Emotions are still raw even after 25 years, and the scuttlebutt in Washington is that Biden will not be pleased with his depiction in the film as far too deferential to Thomas.

That may surprise viewers today, but criticism then of Biden, as one disaffected liberal put it, was not that he was a partisan in-fighter, but that “he bent over backwards to grease the skids for the most unqualified successful Supreme Court nominee we have ever seen.”

People involved in the fight then and interviewed for this article did not want to be quoted by name. The hearings were brutal, with Thomas calling them “a high-tech lynching.” Women’s groups siding with Hill were convinced Thomas was lying and demanded Biden order lie-detector tests and subpoena records of X-rated films Bork had allegedly rented. They blamed Biden for not putting more pressure on Hill to come forward earlier.

The coziness of an all-male and all-white Judiciary panel grilling Hill, a prim college professor who had reluctantly come forward alleging sexual harassment by Thomas, set the stage for a political revolution. The following year, 1992, a record number of women sought political office and a record number won, dubbing it the “Year of the Woman.”

The HBO film will portray at least one witness against Thomas that Biden never called and that critics believe could have ended Thomas’s confirmation. Biden in his role as chairman told the woman the Republicans had dug up more stuff on her, and he described what she would face on national television if she came forward. She chose not to testify, and her statement is in the hearing record.

Confirmation will air at a potentially critical time in the current court fight, but whatever conclusions viewers draw, it should be underscored that Biden let the nominations of Bork and Thomas go forward even if he and his political party disagreed. They each got a vote, and Thomas is now in his 24th year on the court after being confirmed with a mere 52 votes in the Senate.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, March 3, 2016

March 4, 2016 Posted by | Joe Biden, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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