The Problem With Republicans (Justice in Waiting)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

It’s not really a gaffe, is it? It’s an interesting headline from CNN: “John McCain: ‘I don’t know’ if Trump will be better for Supreme Court than Clinton”

Trump has released lists of 21 potential justices. He has pledged to choose from among those 21 when making Supreme Court selections, in a move that has earned him praise from conservatives, including his former rival in the Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) listens to testimony by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander and Resolute Support Commander Gen. John Campbell, on Capitol Hill in Washington, 4 February 2016. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)Asked on the Dom Giordano program on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio whether Trump was the superior candidate on issues like the Supreme Court, the Arizona senator replied, “Uh, first of all, I don’t know, because I hear him saying a lot of different things.”

Later in the interview, McCain used the opportunity to make the case for fellow Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is locked in a close battle to retain his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. McCain promised that Republicans would be “united against any Supreme Court nominee” put forth by Clinton.

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you. This is where we need the majority and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.”

Or, as Taylor Link fashioned the obvious lede for Salon:

Sen. John McCain is sure that if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins, the Senate will continue to be an obstructionist mess.

In a Monday interview, the senator from Arizona said that Republican nominee Donald Trump is not necessarily a better candidate than Hillary Clinton when it comes to appointing Supreme Court justices and “promised” that Republicans wouldn’t approve any Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court.

Couldn’t see that one coming, eh?

Steve Benen, meanwhile, echoes the point for an obvious headline, “John McCain points to indefinite Supreme Court blockade”, but also considers the subtleties:

The radicalism of such a posture is hard to overstate. McCain is effectively vowing to leave his party’s Supreme Court blockade in place indefinitely―through 2020, at a minimum―regardless of whom the American electorate chooses, regardless of the qualifications of the president’s nominee.

The point of such a position isn’t subtle: as far as John McCain is concerned, a Democratic president is, by definition, an illegitimate president. Advise and consent is a nice principle in our system of government, but to hear Arizona’s senior senator put it, it’s not nearly as important as raw, scorched-earth, partisan politics.

If McCain is correct, and Republicans are in the Senate majority working alongside a Democratic president, it’s a recipe for an indefinite blockade, consequences be damned. If McCain is correct, and Republicans end up in the minority, we’ll see GOP senators filibuster Clinton’s nominee―if she wins―opening the door to Democrats changing the rules again via Nuclear Option Part II.

For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced that McCain knows what he’s talking about. He can “promise” that Republicans “will be united against any Supreme Court nominee” from Hillary Clinton, but I suspect there are some GOP senators―Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, perhaps others―who wouldn’t be at all comfortable keeping the partisan blockade intact indefinitely.

Still, though, the question of radicalism should not suggest the Arizona (ahem!) maverick is alone. Link’s report added:

In an interview with Fox News’ Brit Hume last week, former House speaker John Boehner said the next Supreme Court nomination should be the No. 1 priority for voters.

“The legislative process, the political process is at a standstill and will be regardless of who wins,” Boehner said. “The only thing that really matters over the next four years or eight years is who is going to appoint the next Supreme Court nominees.”

This is an important point about “radicalism”: Whatever else, watch for the suicide-pact element. Consider what happens if the Democrats play the same manner of stonewall. Republicans are the Party dedicated to weakening government to the point they can drown it in the bathtub, because a metaphor about murdering the frail is a fine icon describing how the conservative vision regards the vulnerable. Remember, when they tell us government does not and cannot work, it is a threat. They are advocating that government should not work, and this prospect of permanent stonewall is yet another example in a time when such “radicalism” is widely normalized. “The radicalism of such a posture,” Benen asserts, “is hard to overstate”, and he is not wrong.

Civilized society, generally, is not intended to be a suicide pact. The U.S. Constitution is explicitly regarded as not a suicide pact. The problem with Democrats matching Republicans tit for tat is easily illustrated by asking what happens if Democrats match the Republican refusal to govern.

This is what conservatives know: The rest of us won’t let them wreck the place. This is simply an antisocial exercise in taking insatiable satisfaction.

To that end, watch the midterm. Of the senators Benen noted who might disagree with stonewalling the Supreme Court nominee, only Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is in play, and her re-election effort seems to be going well enough that she and colleague Sen. Dan Sullivan have resigned their positions in the state GOP as part of their objection to Republican nominee Donald Trump. Neither Sen. Collins (R-ME) nor Sen. Flake (R-AZ) are up in the 2018 midterm. How much power does this hardline storm still have in it? How will they respond to a Clinton presidency, and where will hardline stonewalling get Congressional Republicans in the midterm?

____________________

Image notes: Top ― Hillary Clinton speaks to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church during their annual convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 July 2016. (Photo: Charles Mostoller/Reuters) Right ― Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., 4 February 2016. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

Benen, Steve. “John McCain points to indefinite Supreme Court blockade”. msnbc. 17 October 2016.

Hensch, Mark. “Alaska senators resign GOP posts after denouncing Trump”. The Hill. 12 October 2016.

Link, Taylor. “John McCain: Republicans will block ‘any Supreme Court nominee’ of Hillary Clinton”. Salon. 17 October 2016.

Massie, Chris. “John McCain: ‘I don’t know’ if Trump will be better for Supreme Court than Clinton”. CNN. 17 October 2016.

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