It’s been nearly three months since Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing, and nearly two months since President Obama named Judge Merrick Garland as his nominee to fill the Supreme Court’s vacancy. The Republican position on the matter, however, has remained largely the same: the GOP-led Senate will continue to impose an unprecedented partisan blockade with no parallel in the American tradition.
According to Republicans, no other consideration – Garland’s qualifications, the process laid out by the Constitution, Americans’ attitudes – will matter.
But as of last night, this posture is facing a new test. Media Matters noted this morning:
Editors of the conservative RedState blog are warning that since Donald Trump is now the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president, Senate Republicans should move to confirm Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland “before it is too late.”Redstate Managing Editor Leon H. Wolf, who has said that he will never vote for Trump, wrote in a May 4 post that Garland “is not a great choice, but is not a terrible one, either.” He continued that Senate Republicans should thus confirm Garland rather than allowing Hillary Clinton to name her own nominee after what he depicted as Trump’s almost certain defeat in November. Fellow editors Ben Howe and Dan McLaughlin have also expressed support for the position.
There are two basic elements to this dynamic. The first is the fact that Republicans find themselves in a deeply uncomfortable situation: they feel compelled to block a highly qualified nominee, offered as a compromise, because they want to let President Trump fill the Supreme Court vacancy.
There are quite a few vulnerable GOP incumbents in the Senate right now, and this is a tough pitch for them to make to voters in an election year.
The second element is more of a gamble: Republicans are blocking Garland, despite their previous praise for his work, because they hope to win the White House. If they lose, Hillary Clinton will very likely send a younger and more liberal nominee to the Senate in 2017.
That was a chance the GOP Senate majority was eager to take in February and March, when Republicans still liked their chances in the 2016 elections, but are they feeling equally confident about their odds now?
Or put another way, just how sure are Senate Republicans that Trump is going to win in November? If the answer is “not very,” Merrick Garland is going to start looking far more appealing to GOP senators.
Of course, Republicans have been loath to even pay Garland the courtesy of a confirmation hearing, fearing a right-wing backlash from their own party’s base, but that’s what makes the RedState commentaries so important. Conservative activists may now be far more tolerant of the Senate process now that they know who their party’s presidential nominee is going to be.
For its part, the White House believes there’s a new opportunity in this fight, which President Obama and his team are eager to take advantage of. USA Today reported:
President Obama took his campaign for a Supreme Court justice straight to the constituents of recalcitrant Republican senators Monday, giving interviews to local television stations in an effort to jump-start Judge Merrick Garland’s stalled nomination.Indeed, Obama name-checked Republican senators to reporters from Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin in a series of six interviews at the White House Monday. The strategy behind the interviews wasn’t lost on the reporters granted them: “The fact is, every reporter in this White House holding room (they call it the Map Room) is from a state in which an incumbent Senate Republican is up for re-election,” wrote Josh McElveen of WMUR in Manchester, N.H. “In New Hampshire, of course, that is Kelly Ayotte.”
The president also devoted his most recent weekly address to the Garland nomination, an extension of the White House’s “9-9-9” plan: “nine states, over nine days, to push for a court with nine justices.”
There hasn’t much action in this fight in recent weeks. The results of the Indiana primary have changed the nature of the game.