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“Arguments Both Indefensible And Dishonest”: Senate Republicans Debunk Their Own Supreme Court Talking Points

Senate Republicans have had about a month to come up with a coherent rationale for imposing a blockade on any Supreme Court nominee from President Obama. The fact that they’ve failed so spectacularly to think of anything sound is probably a bad sign.

But the fact that they’re starting to debunk their own talking points is far worse.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, a wide variety of Republicans repeated this line about the merits of a partisan blockade: “This is a tradition that both parties have lived by for over 80 years where in the last year, if there was a vacancy in the last year of a lame duck president, you don’t move forward.”

Today, another Republican senator – who actually supports his party’s strategy – acknowledged that his party’s argument was a lie. The Huffington Post noted:

One of the Republican Party’s most candid senators, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), admitted Thursday a stark fact that the rest of his colleagues have tried their best to avoid: that their blockade of any Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama is unprecedented.

 And he insisted that he was going to go along with it, even though he predicted it would worsen relations between the parties and the functioning of the Senate.

Graham conceded, “We are setting a precedent here today,” even after weeks of GOP rhetoric about how they’re just following an existing precedent. The South Carolina Republican added that his party’s current gambit would establish a “new rule” – effectively admitting that such a rule is not currently in place.

The comments were held during a Judiciary Committee discussion about why the Judiciary Committee will refuse to have a discussion about the Supreme Court nomination that does not currently exist.

Graham’s unexpected concession made his party’s arguments look both indefensible and dishonest, but Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went even further in discrediting his own party’s claims. TPM reported:

During a Thursday morning radio interview, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) candidly explained that Senate Republicans would take a different approach to a Supreme Court nominee if a Republican president were in office and replacing a conservative justice.

 Johnson was asked on Wisconsin radio show “Morning Mess” about Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider President Obama’s forthcoming nomination to the Supreme Court. The host hypothesized that things would be different if Mitt Romney were in the White House.

The far-right Wisconsin senator, up for re-election this year, said it would be “different” if a Republican president were currently in office. As Johnson put it, “Generally, and this is the way it works out politically, if you’re replacing – if a conservative president’s replacing a conservative justice, there’s a little more accommodation to it.”

He added, “But when you’re talking about a conservative justice now being replaced by a liberal president who would literally flip the court – you know, let’s face it, I don’t think anybody’s under any illusion – President Obama’s nominee would flip the court from a 5-4 conservative to a 5-4 liberal controlled court…. And so it’s an incredibly serious moment in terms of what’s the composition of the court going to be.”

In other words, as far as Johnson’s concerned, pleasant-sounding rhetoric about principles and Senate norms and traditions is all just window dressing. President Obama is a Democrat, and since Antonin Scalia was a conservative, Ron Johnson believes the constitutional process should be ignored for the most brazenly partisan reasons.

I’m honestly not sure if Senate Republicans are even trying anymore. They made up a “Schumer Rule,” which turned out not to make any sense. They made up a “Biden Rule,” which proved the opposite of the GOP’s intended point. They pointed to a “Thurmond Rule,” which kind of exists, but doesn’t apply here. Republicans made up an 80-year “tradition” out of whole cloth, which Lindsey Graham now concedes doesn’t exist.

They blamed the blockade on the “nuclear option,” which was ridiculously dishonest. They said this is payback for Robert Bork, which made even less sense.

And now a prominent Senate Republican is admitting publicly that the party’s professed principles are irrelevant and the party would be acting differently if the president weren’t a Democrat.

Why not simply drop the pretense and admit that the party is being craven?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Secretly On The Ballot In November”: The Future Of The ‘Nuclear Option’ For Supreme Court Nominees

After the initial intense focus on President Obama’s determination to nominate a successor to Antonin Scalia and Senate Republicans’ determination to block him, it’s beginning to sink in that the struggle for control of the Supreme Court could be a complicated and drawn-out battle. As Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post point out today, the next president could have more than one chance to appoint a justice, and both conservatives and liberals understand the stakes could be huge:

The Scalia vacancy technically gives Obama the chance to establish a liberal majority on the court for the first time in decades, but even if he manages to seat a new justice in the face of blanket GOP opposition, the victory could be fleeting …

Scalia’s death at age 79 shows the peril of making predictions about the Court’s future, but the age range among the current justices would suggest that a Republican successor to Obama could have greater impact on remaking the court than a Democrat, especially if Scalia’s seat stays vacant into the next administration. Simply put, the court’s liberal bloc is older and may offer more opportunities for replacement.

When the new president is inaugurated, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be almost 84. Anthony Kennedy will be 80 and Stephen Breyer, 78. Replacing Ginsburg and Breyer, both appointees of President Clinton, with conservatives would instantly shift the court’s balance for years, even if an Obama’s appointee were to replace Scalia. (The next oldest justice is Thomas, who was nominated by George H.W. Bush and will be 68 this summer.)

Many conservatives, of course, hate Kennedy, too; he was the swing vote in upholding Roe v. Wade in 1992, and played a key role in the Court’s marriage-equality decisions.

But more fundamentally, partisan polarization and gridlock in Congress has significantly elevated the importance of non-legislative entities, including the federal courts and executive-branch agencies whose power the courts might choose to expand or restrain.  So control of the commanding heights of the Supreme Court is more important than ever.

What complicates the issue is the precedent set by Senate Democrats under Harry Reid in 2011 (Republicans had come close to taking the same action in 2005): the so-called “nuclear option,” removing the right to filibuster executive branch and non-SCOTUS judicial appointments. With both parties in the Senate steadily retreating from the ancient practice of deferring to the president’s choices for the High Court, and with the hot-button issues facing SCOTUS making “compromise” choices less feasible, the difference between having to muster 50 and 60 Senate votes to confirm a presidential nomination is increasingly momentous.  And for that reason, if either party wins both the White House and the Senate this November, going “nuclear” on SCOTUS appointments by getting rid of the filibuster is a very high probability (and even if it doesn’t happen, the threat of “going nuclear” can and will be used to force the minority party to be reasonable).

But the converse situation is worth pondering, too. If, to cite a lively possibility, Democrats hang onto the White House while Republicans hang onto the Senate, there is no way the Senate invokes the “nuclear option.”  Senate resistance to a progressive justice would likely stiffen in 2018, when Republicans will enjoy one of the most favorable Senate landscapes in memory. 25 of 33 Senate seats up that year are currently Democratic, including five in states Obama lost twice.  Add in the recent GOP advantage in the kind of voters most likely to participate in midterm elections, and the ancient tendency of midterm voters to punish the party controlling the White House, and the odds of a Democratic president being able to impose her or his will on the Senate on crucial SCOTUS nominations between 2019 and 2021 is very slim.

If Democrats want to shape the Court’s future, they’d do well not only to win the White House but to take back the Senate this November, and get rid of the SCOTUS filibuster in hopes that restoring it will be too controversial for Republicans even if they reconquer the Senate in 2018. By then, of course, Senate Republicans may be looking forward to their own ability to shape the Court after 2020 if they win back the presidency then. It’s going to be a chess game with big and continuing arguments over the rules.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 29, 2016

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Filibuster, Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Senate As A Gangster’s Paradise”: Guess Who The Two Republican Senators Are With “Gang” Records As Long As Your Arm?

When I read articles like today’s piece in The Hill with the headline “Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option,” I feel a quick burst of the cynicism hormone. Aside from confusion over the term “nuclear option” (which means adoption of filibuster rules by a majority-vote rules resolution, not the rules themselves), we’re given the unlikely impression that GOPers are agonizing over showing themselves as hypocritically inclined to reverse the loudly expressed objections they made when Democrats provided for majority-vote approval of executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominations:

While many expressed anger over last years’ move by the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to unilaterally change the rules through a procedure known as the “nuclear option,” some say the new rules should be kept in case a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans will take their time reaching a decision.

“A lot of our guys still feel very strongly about just the wrongness of what [Reid] did and the position it’s put everybody here in the Senate in,” Thune said.

“Now we’re having to go through a fairly lengthy process to figure out, in the majority, how we want to proceed.”

Yeah, well, or you’re trying to display an agonized uncertainty before you do the predictable thing of making life easy for a future Republican president, with the knowledge that during the next two years a Senate Republican majority makes filibustering Obama’s appointees unnecessary.

But this does give me slight pause:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both said keeping the new rules would be dangerous

Graham said that, while some Republicans are “salivating” over the possibility of being able to more easily confirm their picks under a Republican president, removing the filibuster destroys incentives “to go across the aisle and pick up a few votes.”

This is code for “removing the filibuster eliminates the need for bipartisan ‘gangs’ to navigate the confirmation process.” Guess who the two Republican senators are with “gang” records as long as your arm? Yep, it’s the Amigos.

Now if you are a believer in bipartisanship as an end in itself, that all sounds fine. But if you think maintaining the filibuster not only makes governing very hard but empowers deal-cutting oligarchs producing logrolling abominations, then maybe you are less happy with the Senate as a Gangster’s Paradise.

In any event, if Republicans are determined to keep the limited majority-vote rules in place, and particularly if they are interested in expanding them, they ought to be able to–ironically, given Graham’s rationalization for keeping the Good Old Rules–“go across the aisle and pick up a few votes” from progressive Democrats committed to eroding the filibuster by any means necessary.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, The World Didn’t End”: Maybe We’ll All Survive After All

I’m a bit amused at some of the articles dribbling out of Washington at present that find various silver linings for the demise of the filibuster against executive-branch and lower-court-judicial appointments. I mean, we all know it Killed the Senate As We Know It, at which act the angels are still weeping, and it spoiled the great and dignified work of the “gangs” cutting ad hoc deals to avoid this or that filibuster. I know it’s hard to imagine anything that would significantly offset such terrible damage–what will Lindsey Graham do between primary challenges?–but The Hill‘s Elise Viebeck finds one that has the added bonus of giving Republicans a trophy to mount on its wall:

Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate’s approval of filibuster reform.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her.

After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.

“The president’s hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday.

“Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That’s a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare’s rollout or not.”

Better yet, Democrats can approve appointments to the Obamacare Death Panel without Republicans getting their hands dirty with complicity in genocide.

The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law’s controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president.

Known as IPAB, the panel has no members yet is meant to submit its first proposed cuts in January. Any nominees from Obama require Senate confirmation, which is now an easier prospect.

Before Thursday’s vote, Obama’s nominees needed 60 votes to survive procedural motions. Now they need 51.

And hey, maybe the nuclear option shattered the deal-making dreams of “moderate” Republicans, but it might help keep some Democratic “centrists” in the Senate:

Beyond helping Obama, the change could make life easier for some of the Senate Democrats who face tough reelection contests in 2014. The chamber is controlled by 53 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the majority party.

“Obama now has breathing room among Democrats,” Hudak said.

“He can actually let some of the Democrats who are in tough races off the hook, which has some real electoral implications for those members.”

So see? Maybe we’ll all survive after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“High On Their Own Supply”: Republicans Marching Into One Well-Prepared Crossfire After Another

Jonathan Strong, writing at National Review Online, explains that the Republicans are wary of doing anything that might distract people from their campaign against the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, Mitch McConnell doesn’t intend to engage in any high-profile retaliatory procedural actions in the Senate. That’s fine with me, but it calls to mind McConnell’s immediate response to the invocation of the Nuclear Option. He took to the Senate floor and declared not that Harry Reid had just done something historical or significant or even abominable, but that Reid was merely trying to distract people from ObamaCare.

I thought that was the oddest response in the world. I expected fire and brimstone and steaming wrath and promises of vengeance, or even impeachment. And I got a mild complaint about Reid trying to change the narrative.

This makes me think that the Republicans are truly on another one of their Moby Dick adventures, like Whitewater, like the White House Travel Office, like Vince Foster, like l’affaire Lewinsky, like Saddam’s WMD, like Fast and Furious, like Solyndra, like the New Black Panther Party, like Benghazi, and like the most recent government shutdown. More than anything, it reminds me of when they convinced themselves not that the presidential polling numbers could be oversampling blacks, but that they were oversampling blacks. It’s like their theory that systematically trying to make it harder for blacks to vote would result in reduced black turnout rather than a black community more determined than ever to cast their ballots.

It’s some variation of stupidity and delusion, with a little evil sprinkled into the mix. And this really is the only area where I find the Republicans unpredictable. I know what they won’t agree to, which makes it easy to offer it to them without fear that they will accept it. “Have some Chained CPI, boys, really, all we need in return is some revenue.”

What I have trouble predicting is their next obsession, and how absurdly far they will take it. These people are still talking about Benghazi. As long as I’ve watched them, I still have to admit that I didn’t see that coming.

Still, their greatest weakness is their predictability. They do not know how to adapt to changing circumstances, nor how to trim their sails when it would be to their advantage. As a result, they march into one well-prepared crossfire after another.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 23, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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