Any day now, President Obama is expected to announce his nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, and the political battle lines have already been drawn. On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans remain committed to a partisan blockade, unlike anything ever seen in American history, that calls for the rejection of any presidential nominee, regardless of qualifications or merit.
But while the Senate's Republican majority intends to ignore the White House's choice, the Republican National Committee intends to do the opposite. The Associated Press reported
The Republican Party is launching a campaign to try to derail President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, teaming up with a conservative opposition research group to target vulnerable Democrats and impugn whomever Obama picks. A task force housed within the Republican National Committee will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach.... The RNC will contract with America Rising Squared, an outside group targeting Democrats that's run by a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said his attack operation would "make sure Democrats have to answer to the American people for why they don't want voters to have a say in this process." Priebus added
that the White House is poised to "break with decades of precedent."
Republicans, the RNC chair went on to say, are "going to vet that person and put their real record on display."
At face value, most the RNC's rhetoric is plainly laughable. Obviously, no one is trying to deny voters a role in the process -- voters are the ones who elected President Obama (twice), giving him the authority to act. It's equally obvious that the "decades of precedent" talking point is brazenly untrue
, as even some Senate Republicans have been willing to acknowledge.
But just below the surface, there's something even more ridiculous going on.
For example, the RNC is going to have a tough time pitching their opposition to the unnamed nominee as sincere and principled if the party launches its partisan war against him or her before knowing who the nominee is. There's an important difference between, "This is a horrible choice," and "We have no idea who the choice will be, but we're sure it'll be horrible."
It's the sort of posture that leads more to eye-rolling than meaningful debate.
Ideally, of course, [the vetting of the nominee] is what would happen if the Senate were to hold hearings on that person. But that might afford the nominee a chance to directly respond to his or her Republican cross-examiners in a high profile setting (as opposed to only having Democratic groups mounting all the pushback, which of course they will also do, once there is a nominee). Direct exchanges between the nominee and Republican Senators, alas, might reflect well on that person. And so the only "vetting" and examination of the nominee's "real record" will be undertaken through the RNC and associated GOP-aligned groups. That's not meant as sarcasm. It's the actual Republican party-wide position right now.
Quite right. Under the American political process, the Senate is supposed to oversee the formal vetting of a Supreme Court nominee. In 2016, however, Senate Republicans don't want to -- so they're outsourcing the vetting to the Republican National Committee.
What should be done by senators and officials -- people who are ultimately accountable to the public -- will instead be done by partisan operatives.
There is no precedent for anything like this in the American tradition. Senate Republicans and the RNC evidently don't care.