Not About Anything But Democrats, According to Republicans

Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals is introduced as a Supreme Court nominee, at the White House Rose Garden in Washington, D.C., 16 March 2016.  (Detail of photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“Naturally, I would like to have him treated fairly, but a lot depends on who’s elected, a lot depends on who’s going to be president.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)

Via Reuters:

Two key U.S. Senate Republicans signaled they would be open to considering after the Nov. 8 presidential election President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, the centrist judge who was set on Thursday to begin meeting with senators.

The comments by Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, members of the Judiciary Committee that would hold any confirmation hearings, came a day after Obama nominated Garland to the lifetime position on the high court to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Feb. 13.

Senate Republican leaders have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings or an up-or-down vote on any Supreme Court nominee put forward by Obama, whose term ends in January. They want the next president to make the selection, hoping a Republican wins November’s election.

Flake said while Republican leaders were “fully justified” in delaying action on confirmation, if the Republicans lose the White House race the Republican-led Senate “ought to look at this nomination in a lame-duck session in November.”

And while it’s true that something goes here about the futility of predicting conservative behavior, it’s worth reminding that part of the reason for this is that even Republicans aren’t paying attention.

This is the problem: They’re not even trying.

Republican posturing is often lazy and inconsiderate even of itself. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who holds the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded to Judge Garland’s nomination by asserting that the Senate’s refusal to provide advice and consent fulfills its duty to provide advice and consent. That is to say, Senate Republican refusal to undertake their constitutional duty in and of itself fulfills their constitutional duty. Even more bluntly: Senate Republicans argue that by refusing to do their jobs, they in fact actually do their jobs.

There is a curious, not quite obscure sense of bitter irony about conservative self-contradiction; for whatever reason, we might recall the occasion that John Boehner sent the House on vacation early, in order to avoid tough votes and concomitant rough press, but also managed to take a moment on his way out of town to complain about the unemployed. Or, you know, did we not recently witness Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) argue, to the one, that public officials who don’t do their jobs should be fired, while, to the other, actually trying to fashion his dereliction of the Senate as evidence of his presidential qualification? To the one, this is an old trope; from the library book protesters who argued their rights were violated as long as someone else’s is intact on through today’s probate judges and county clerks trying another version. To the one, there is no free speech unless they can censor people they don’t like; to the other, there is no equal protection as long as they are without supremacy under the law. We can try pointing out that the Party of Accountability simply wants to skip out―on its job, the Constitution, reality itself, &c.―and blame everybody else, but come on, at some point it feels like beating a dead horse.

But this is how they do it.

And that proposition is on plain display.

Paul Campos reminded yesterday:

Consider: Just a half-dozen years ago, Orrin Hatch, perhaps the single most influential Republican senator in regard to judicial nominations, declared that Merrick would be “a consensus nominee,” and that furthermore there was “no question” that he could be confirmed.

Allegra Kirkland recalled:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told Newsmax on Friday that President Obama wouldn’t nominate a “moderate” like Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Utah senator was proven wrong.

“The President told me several times he’s going to name a moderate, but I don’t believe him,” Hatch told the conservative news site on Friday


“[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” he continued. “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.”

The Utah Republican knows all this, of course, which is probably why he started shifting his position almost immediately, as Steve Benen noted yesterday:

Hatch also added this morning, “I’d probably be open to resolving this in the lame duck.” Keep a very close eye on this, because it may prove to be incredibly important. As things stand, Senate Republicans don’t intend to reject Garland, so much as they plan to ignore him. His nomination won’t be defeated; it’ll simply wither on the vine.

And, now, here we are.

The Reuters report from Megan Cassella and Susan Heavey shows Republicans essentially laying it bare. Mr. Hatch openly admits he would confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, but for Barack Obama being president. His Republican colleague from Arizona, Sen. Jeff Flake, made the obvious practical argument, explaing that he “would rather have a less liberal nominee like Merrick Garland than a nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put forward”. This much is obvious. Sen. Hatch, though, makes the point clear: They know they are wrong.

It was possible the Senate could take up Garland’s nomination after the election, Hatch said.

“Naturally, I would like to have him treated fairly, but a lot depends on who’s elected, a lot depends on who’s going to be president,” Hatch added.

Let that sink in for a moment, please.

“Naturally, I would like to have him treated fairly, but a lot depends on who’s elected, a lot depends on who’s going to be president.”

And that’s what this is about.

This, too, is how they do it.

This is not about fairness, or justice, or anything other than Republican anger at losing presidential elections. When they run out of other excuses, Republicans just fall back to the idea that they get to decide whether a particular bench is even necessary. The problem there is obvious: Whether that bench exists falls under Congressional purview. But Republicans don’t actually want to be seen legislating benches out of existence; they simply want to decide that since it’s a Democratic president appointing the judges, the bench doesn’t need to be filled. And it’s not like the backlog of cases is a new thing; there were problems when Republicans tried this line twenty years ago. Those problems have largely gotten worse.

In the end, this is what it comes to.

Sure, Republicans would like to do their jobs and be fair and all that nice stuff, but they really, really don’t like this president, and for reasons they cannot articulate in any context relevant to reality, so, no, they’re not going to do that. And, of course, we must remember that it’s not their fault. Because nothing they do is ever their fault.

Blame Obama, you know?


Image note: Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals is introduced as a Supreme Court nominee, at the White House Rose Garden in Washington, D.C., 16 March 2016. (Detail of photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Benen, Steve. “Senate Republicans vow to keep Supreme Court blockade intact”. msnbc. 16 March 2016.

Campos, Paul. “Obama’s gutsy ‘Godfather’ move: Merrick Garland nomination is as big a GOP nightmare as Donald Trump”. Salon. 16 March 2016.

Cassella, Megan and Susan Heavey. “Key Republicans open to handling Garland nomination after U.S. election”. Reuters. 17 March 2016.

Kirkland, Allegra. “Just Last Week Hatch Said Obama Won’t Nominate A ‘Moderate’ Like Garland”. Talking Points Memo. 16 March 2016.

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