Senate Republican leaders have not yet convinced their members to rally behind a specific strategy on the Supreme Court vacancy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his leadership team are committed to an inflexible blockade – no President Obama nominee will ever be considered, no matter what – but the party is falling short of unanimity on the gambit.
If the American mainstream backed the Republicans’ play, it would no doubt take some of the pressure off, but for now, that’s not happening, either. The latest national Fox News poll asked respondents:
“Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent death has sparked a debate over how to fill the vacancy on the nation’s highest court. Taking into consideration that it’s an election year, which of the following is closer to your view?”
The results weren’t particularly close. A 62% majority agreed, “It’s still the responsibility of current leaders, President Obama and the Senate, to take action to fill the vacancy now,” while 34% said, “The president shouldn’t get to nominate someone for a lifetime appointment to the high court this late in his term.”
In fairness, there are other polls pointing in different directions. A CBS News poll, for example, asked the question in a different way: “Would you like to see the next Supreme Court justice appointed by President Obama before the election in November or appointed by the president who will be elected in November?” Respondents were divided: 47% believe President Obama should make the call, 46% prefer his successor.
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also framed the question differently: “Would you prefer the U.S. Senate vote this year on the replacement nominated by President Obama or leave the position vacant and wait to vote next year on the replacement nominated by the new president?” The question produced another narrow split: 43% want a vote this year, 42% want a vote next year.
Maybe the Fox results are an outlier, maybe the specific wording makes an important difference. Either way, it seems safe to say the Republican idea of a blockade hasn’t exactly won over wide swaths of the American mainstream.
This provides a baseline of sorts for future comparisons. Assuming President Obama makes a responsible choice, and sends a qualified and capable nominee to the Senate for consideration, it’s likely the political conditions will grow even more intense. It will fall on Republican senators to explain to the public why they have plenty of time to scrutinize Obama’s choice, but they just don’t feel like it – because they really don’t like the democratically elected two-term president.
Don’t be surprised if the polls shift further away from the GOP’s direction in the coming months. After all, so far, Republican talking points in this fight have been a bit of a joke.