Just about every senator in both parties issued written statements yesterday responding to President Obama nominating Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, but Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) stood out as unique.
Facing a credible re-election challenge this year, Toomey has already joined his party’s blockade against any high court nominee this year, but in his press release, the Pennsylvania Republican managed to blaze his own trail: “Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination.”
Hmm. If some other president nominates Garland, Toomey might support the jurist’s confirmation, but not this president. Garland may deserve careful consideration in January 2017, but in March 2016, according to Toomey, it’s out of the question.
On the campaign trail in Pennsylvania yesterday, Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich adopted a related line. The Ohio governor made the case that other presidents can put forward Supreme Court nominees in the early months of their final year in office, but this president should not. The Washington Post reported:
“I think a president can pick a nominee in the last year, but the fact is, you have somebody who’s created this terrible polarization,” said Kasich. “You cannot stiff the legislative body that you have to work with. You just can’t do that. And he’s had no relationship with them. He got Obamacare – not one [Republican] vote. Then he did executive orders, which he shouldn’t have done. It’s a total breakdown down there.”
According to a video of the comments, Kasich added that a Supreme Court nomination means “more fighting, more fighting,” which is something the White House should avoid.
None of this makes any sense at all.
Some of the details are just plainly wrong. Kasich’s proof of the president “stiffing” Congress is health care reform – which was approved by Congress. The GOP governor complained about Obama’s executive orders, but the truth is this president has issued fewer executive orders than any modern two-term president.
But even if we put these odd factual misstatements aside, Kasich’s core argument is that President Obama shouldn’t try to fill a Supreme Court vacancy because we’re living in an era of political polarization. If routine governing leads to “more fighting,” the argument goes, than Obama – whom Kasich inexplicably blames for the toxic political air – should sit on his hands and do nothing.
Other, less polarizing presidents have the authority to make Supreme Court nominations, but this president – who has the audacity to pursue his agenda despite Republican opposition – must steer clear of anything that might be perceived as controversial. By Kasich’s reasoning, the only steps Obama should take are the ones his radicalized Republican critics approve of.
This is a genuinely bizarre approach to contemporary politics, but just as importantly, it’s an argument that appears even more foolish given the GOP’s consistent praise of Merrick Garland over the course of many years.
Republicans may stick to the line that there should be an anti-Obama double-standard, but there’s no reason anyone should take it seriously.