For months, Senate Republicans have said their deeply held principles require them to impose the first-ever blockade on any Supreme Court nominee. To hear GOP senators tell it, there are some core beliefs that they feel compelled to honor: (1) no nominated justice should be considered in a presidential election year; and (2) if there’s a vacancy in a presidential election year, it must be filled by the next, yet-to-be-elected president.
Even after President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, a compromise choice, Republicans said it didn’t matter since their guiding principles overlook every other consideration, including Garland’s qualifications.
But on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was surprisingly candid about the shallowness of his party’s talking points. In fact, after Chuck Todd asked the Arizona Republican about his party’s strategy, Flake made the case for an entirely different set of principles.
“I think Republicans are more than justified in waiting. That is following both principle and precedent. But the principle is to have the most conservative, qualified jurists that we can have on the Supreme Court, not that the people ought to decide before the next election. I’ve never held that position.“If we come to a point, I’ve said all along, where we’re going to lose the election, or we lose the election in November, then we ought to approve him quickly. Because I’m certain that he’ll be more conservative than a Hillary Clinton nomination comes January.”
As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel noted yesterday, Flake was effectively “just straight giving the game away” with comments like these. For all the talk about “principles,” here was a Republican senator – a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee – saying on national television that the only “principle” he cares about is his partisan and ideological goal.
Every other consideration – the constitutional process, the Senate’s responsibilities, the merits of the pending nomination, every claim made by Senate Republicans for the last three months, etc. – is unimportant compared to the GOP’s desire to have “the most conservative” justices possible.
If that means rigging the confirmation process to advance a brazenly ideological agenda, so be it.
As we discussed in March, when Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pushed for the same kind of scheme – block Garland, unless Hillary Clinton wins, then confirm him – we’re talking about elected senators who aren’t even trying to work in good faith. Some of these Republicans seem quite comfortable appearing nakedly partisan, abandoning any sense of propriety or responsibility, as if they simply don’t care whether or not they appear ridiculous.
In fairness, there are some exceptions. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) have both said Senate Republicans can’t honestly expect to get away with demanding the next president nominate the next justice, only to change their minds during a lame-duck session.
Flake, however, doesn’t care about keeping up appearances. Keep this in mind the next time party officials justify their unprecedented blockade with rhetoric about “principles.”