One of the under-appreciated aspects of President Obama’s tenure has been how extraordinarily bipartisan he’s been in key personnel decisions. Congressional Republicans like to see Obama as some kind of out-of-control partisan, but by any sensible metric, looking at his appointments, he’s actually been the most bipartisan president in modern American history.
The first hint of what was to come was when then-President-Elect Obama asked Bob Gates, the Bush/Cheney Defense Secretary, to stay on at his post. (Obama would later have another Republican, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, serve in the same position.) In the months and years that followed, the Obama White House kept giving Republicans key positions throughout his administration – from FBI director to cabinet secretaries to ambassadorships.
No modern president has gone further than this one to put members of the other party in positions of influence on his own team. This, however, would take the dynamic to a whole new level.
Brian Sandoval, the centrist Republican governor of Nevada, is being vetted by the White House for a possible nomination to the Supreme Court, according to two people familiar with the process.Sandoval is increasingly viewed by some key Democrats as perhaps the only nominee President Obama could select who would be able to break a Republican blockade in the Senate.
This report, published by the Washington Post this morning, has been confirmed by NBC News, which also spoke to a source familiar with the White House’ vetting process.
If the idea of a Sandoval nomination sounds vaguely familiar, we talked briefly last week about Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) suggesting Sandoval, his home-state governor, as a possible Supreme Court nominee.
Were Sandoval to get the nomination, it’d be the basis for a political fight unlike anything we’ve seen in a long while.
For those unfamiliar with the Nevada governor’s background, it’s worth emphasizing that by 2016 standards, Sandoval is out of step with many of his party’s key positions. The Nevada Republican, who’s also a former federal judge, embraced the Affordable Care Act, supports abortion rights, made no effort to oppose marriage equality, and has approved tax increases to pay for improved public education.
This is not to say he’s some kind of Republican In Name Only – Sandoval is also pretty far to the right on guns and issues related to labor unions – but by contemporary standards, the governor has not been a part of his party’s increasing radicalization.
For Obama, the idea of nominating Sandoval has some understandable appeal. Senate Republicans have already decided on an unprecedented court blockade, and having a Latino GOP governor as the nominee would test the Republican commitment to that posture in some fascinating ways.
Don’t forget, however, that the partisan uncertainty would extend to Democrats as well. Why, some Senate Dems would likely wonder, should a Democratic president accommodate Republican extremism by nominating a Republican for the Supreme Court? If a Democrat wins the White House in this year’s elections, wouldn’t he or she nominate a more progressive choice in 2017?
Ordinarily, I’m reluctant to pay too much attention to “who will the president choose?” speculation, though I’ll confess Sandoval would be the kind of curveball that jolts the political world in unpredictable ways. Watch this space.