advice and consent

The Beltway Sketch (Civics: General and Particular)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President Donald Trump speaks about trade in the Oval Office of the White House, 31 March 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

What additional commentary could possibly go here? You will, eventually, encounter a conservative complaining about Democratic obstructionism, and these are some points worth keeping in mind:

1. Democrats are in the minority, and don’t control the Senate calendar.

2. Filibusters on executive-branch nominees have been eliminated. Senate Dems can slow the process down a bit when they want to, delaying votes by a couple of weeks in some instances, but they don’t have the power to block any of Trump’s nominees on their own. It’s simply not possible as a procedural matter.

3. In order for nominees to be confirmed, they have to be sent. Of the 559 key positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has not yet nominated anyone for 442 of the posts. This is especially true when it comes to ambassadors: for the vast majority of these diplomatic positions, the White House hasn’t yet nominated anyone. Josh Barro noted that only five countries currently have U.S. nominees awaiting Senate confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand (and the Vatican doesn’t really count as a country, per se).

All of this is of particular interest right now because there is no current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, which affects our response to the two recent British terrorist attacks. Trump chose Woody Johnson for the post months ago, but the administration never formally nominated Johnson, so the Senate hasn’t been able to even consider acting.

Trump apparently wants to blame Democrats for this. Even by his standards, that’s completely bonkers.

(Benen)

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The Republican Message

"Meet Merrick Garland" ― Detail from screenshot of GOP.com.

Let’s talk about messaging.

Okay, we get that President Obama is the big bad villain and all that, but am I the only person who noticed that the GOP “oppo dump” against Judge Merrick Garland, besides being utterly flaccid, is filed under “Hillary Clinton”?

(sigh)

Here. Consider this note, please, from Greg Sargent, offered a couple days before the president nominated Judge Garland:

Republican operatives will “vet that person and put their real record on display.” Ideally, of course, this 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 mount 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. Remember, Senate Republicans themselves have told reporters that they don’t want to hold hearings explicitly because it would risk drawing the wrong kind of media attention to the nominee, thus making it harder politically for GOP Senators — particularly vulnerable incumbents facing reelection in states carried by Obama — to oppose that person later.

It also seems a good time to reiterate Stuart Rothenberg’s recent reflection on this year’s U.S. Senate races. No, really. Trying to tie it all together is an exercise in futility, because it’s almost like a harm reduction scheme implemented in advance of scheduled self-harm. And, yes, that sentence is supposed to read so ridiculously; that’s kind of the problem.

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Image note: Detail of screenshot from GOP.com, taken 19 March 2016.

Republican National Committee. “Meet Merrick Garland”. GOP.com. 16 March 2016.

Rothenberg, Stuart. “Dem Senate Takeover Probable, If Cruz or Trump Nominee”. Rothenblog. Roll Call. 13 March 2016.

Sargent, Greg. “In Supreme Court fight, Republicans lead with their chins”. The Washington Post. 14 March 2016.

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.

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Republican Justice (Maybe Mix)

Contemplation of Justice

Steve Benen, after reviewing the appalling stupidity of the Republican pitch against confirming a Supreme Court nominee, including their reaction to the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, found himself adding a postscript:

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who just last week explicitly urged Obama to nominate Garland, said in a statement this morning that Garland’s nomination “doesn’t in any way change current circumstances” – which is to say, Hatch still supports his party’s blockade.

However, 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.

But if Republicans fare poorly in November’s elections, don’t be too surprised if GOP senators declare, “Well, now that voters have had their say, we’re prepared to confirm Garland after all.”

The msnbc producer and blogger advises readers to, “File this away for future reference”, and it behooves us to do so. One of the blessings facing pretty much any president seeking a new Supreme Court justice, and especially Democrats as such these days, is that there is a plethora of qualified candidates. In the end, given all else, one wonders if perhaps the “moderate, inoffensive, broadly respected, 63-year-old white guy” is actually the sacrificial lamb.

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LePage on Obama on Scalia

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the maine GOP convention, Sunday, 6 May 2012. (Detail of photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo)

All things considered, this is actually not unexpected. Well, you know.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday added his voice to the ongoing debate regarding the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created with the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia last Saturday.

LePage sided with former governor and U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, saying President Barack Obama should nominate a replacement for Scalia.

“I’m a big constitutionalist,” LePage said. “If it’s in the Constitution, I think it means something.”

(Thistle)

That is to say, Governor LePage managed to get one rightα. Then again, this one is pretty easy.

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Your Headline of the Duh

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia testifies before a House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 20, 2010. (Detail of photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The headline from Roll Call we might file as obvious: “Supreme Court Vacancy Could Lead to Even More Gridlock”:

Republicans, including Cruz and Rubio on the Sunday shows, have cited the so-called “Thurmond Rule” in saying the chamber shouldn’t confirm any such nominees in the last year of a president’s term once the presidential race is underway. It’s named after Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who chaired the Judiciary Committee from 1981 to 1987.

“There is no such thing as the Thurmond Rule,” Senate Judiciary ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. Leahy cited the Democratic-controlled Senate’s confirmation of several of Republican George W. Bush’s lower court nominees in September 2008 as evidence that there is no such tradition or rule.

Remember, when this stuff finally makes it ’round to the evening news, then the morning infotainment, that we’ve already heard it.

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Image note: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia testifies before a House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 20, 2010. (Detail of photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Dick, Jason. “Supreme Court Vacancy Could Lead to Even More Gridlock”. Roll Call. 14 February 2016.

Not Surprising (Lazy Days Delays Mix)

Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The news shouldn’t be surprising; Senate leadership has once again pushed back any prospect of a confirmation vote for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch. The situation as it stands in the wake of reports that mid-April will be the earliest possibility for a vote:

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters yesterday, “The continued delay is unconscionable.”

Note, the problem is not that Republicans have imposed a blanket blockade on all confirmation votes. On the contrary, since Lynch was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support on Feb. 26, the GOP majority has confirmed four Obama administration nominees, including one yesterday. Republicans have also allowed Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s nomination to reach the floor, despite the fact that Carter was nominated after Lynch.

But the A.G. nominee, for reasons Republicans have struggled to explain, is being denied an up-or-down vote, even though Lynch appears to have the votes necessary for confirmation.

All of this has unfolded despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) public vow that he would allow a vote on Lynch last week – a commitment he has since broken.

As of this morning, Lynch was nominated 136 days ago. As we discussed last week, the first African-American woman ever considered for this post has waited longer for a vote than any A.G. nominee in history, and longer than the last five A.G. nominees combined. Even her fiercest critics have failed to raise substantive objections to her qualifications, background, temperament, or judgment.

(Benen)

What we have here is another example of the Republican thesis that government does not and cannot work. And what we have here is also another example of Republicans trying to prove the thesis by deliberately botching up basic governance.

No, really, how is any of that actually surprising?

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Image note: Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to be the next attorney general, meets with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Benen, Steve. “Senate GOP delaying Lynch nomination (again)”. msnbc. 24 March 2015.

A Long Note on Political Tradition in These United States

President Barack Obama, delivers his State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Charles Dharapak/AP)

By now of course we have become accustomed to the proposition that Republicans, once elected, would rather sit around. To some it actually seems a very sick idea; not only did the Speaker of the House demonstrate that Republicans conisder their job description to include going on vacation instead of actually working because, well, the most important part of the job is election and re-election, but in recent months the GOP has shown more and more willingness to simply admit that the inherent failure of government is more of a conservative goal than anything else.

Boehner and the band skipped out on gigs that might need Congressional attention, such as the Daa’ish question, the Ebola question, and the Immigration Reform question; despite their howls of rage regarding the latter, the fact of executive action occasionally arises when Congress refuses to pass a bill and the Speaker of the House calls on the President to use his executive authority. They could have skipped screeching themselves hoarse by simply sticking around and doing their jobs. Then again, the prior statement is controversial if only because it would appear that Congressional Republicans appear to believe their first, last, and only job is to win votes. Given their reluctance to undertake day-to-day Constitutional functions of Congress, such as advising and consenting to presidential appointments—or, as such, formally refusing the nomination—we ought not be surprised that the latest duty Republicans wish to shirk is sitting through an annual speech.

Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right’s mind.

“Yes, there’s a risk to overreacting, but there’s a risk to underreacting as well,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. “And I fear that’s the way the congressional leadership is leaning.”

Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. “If I were John Boehner,” he said, referring to the House speaker, “I’d say to the president: ‘Send us your State of the Union in writing. You’re not welcome in our chamber.'”

Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it’s important to note that he isn’t the only one publicly pushing the idea.

Politico reported yesterday that congressional Republicans are weighing a variety of tactics to “address” their disgust over Obama’s immigration policy, and “GOP aides and lawmakers” are considering the idea of “refusing to invite the president to give his State of the Union address.”

Late last week, Breitbart News also ran a piece of its own on the subject: “Congress should indicate to President Obama that his presence is not welcome on Capitol Hill as long as his ‘executive amnesty’ remains in place. The gesture would, no doubt, be perceived as rude, but it is appropriate.”

(Benen)

Wait, wait, wait—sixteen years ago?

Yes. Like impeachment chatter and stonewalling, Republicans want to make refusing to hear the State of the Union Address part of their standard response to any Democratic president.

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