The austere Senate erupted into open partisan warfare over how to handle the vacancy on the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with senators behaving more like playground bullies than like the statesmen the nation’s founders had envisioned.
Republicans who control the Senate announced they won’t even pretend to entertain President Barack Obama’s choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the High Court. Traditional hearings—where senators from both parties grill the president’s pick—be damned.
By not even allowing a hearing, the GOP is admittedly taking their ball and going home.
“It just moves the ball further down the field. Our point is, we’re not going to put the ball on the field,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). told The Daily Beast. Many Republicans are vowing to not even take a meeting with the nominee—whether it’s a Republican, a moderate, or the fire-breathing progressive they fear the president will tap.
“If they were in charge they’d be doing the exact same thing, so this is going to go to the American people,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who recently ended his own longshot White House bid. “I’m not going to meet with the nominee.”
This came a day after a 1992 speech from Vice President Joe Biden—then chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee—surfaced where he seemed to hint that if a Supreme Court Justice resigned in that election year President George H. W. Bush should hold off nominating a replacement.
Republicans are now clinging to that in their attempt to derail the president’s pick, but Democrats say they’ve gone too far in their latest in a string of snubs to a president many in the GOP base never viewed as a legitimate occupant of the White House.
“Candidly, I am really shocked. I didn’t think Republicans would ever go this far,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) after learning GOP leaders are denying the president the respect his office deserves. “I think it is probably the most offensive, serious gesture I have seen taken against the functioning of this great government.”
“It’s unprecedented that this president, with just about a year remaining, is going to be handcuffed and essentially prevented from having a nominee for the United States Supreme Court heard by committee,” Feinstein said.
Democrats are now promising to make the Supreme Court vacancy a central plank in their efforts to rev up their base during this election year.
“They just keep digging themselves in a deeper and deeper hole,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “What they’re trying to do is say to the American people ‘Go on to another issue,’ because they know this is a bad issue for them. But that’s not going to happen. This is too important. This is too deep.”
“If anything, when the president nominates someone and there’s a real live person there…it’s going to get worse for them. It’s not going away,” Schumer added, though he stopped short of promising to block Republicans’ every move this year, as many analysts fear.
“We’re not obstructionists like they are, and we’re going to move forward,” Schumer told The Daily Beast. “The pressure is going to come, not from holding up the legislative agenda—we’re going to let these bills go forward—it’s going to come from the American people and some of their members who are under huge pressure.”
Schumer and other Democratic leaders are predicting the calculus of the GOP will change as November’s elections draw closer.
Moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk, who is facing tough re-election prospects in Illinois, have already bucked party leaders and called for the Senate to at least examine the president’s pick to replace Justice Scalia.
But an election year Supreme Court battle doesn’t scare many Republicans who see the issue as a way to excite their anti-abortion voters and those who want to unwind items like the president’s executive action on immigration.
“Not acting is acting,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is lagging in polls in his rematch against progressive former Sen. Russ Feingold.
Meanwhile Democrats are eagerly awaiting the publicity they’ll garner when they hold high-profile meetings with whoever the president nominates to replace Scalia. The No. 2 Senate Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, who is from the president’s home state of Illinois, chatted with the president over the weekend and told reporters “he has a short list he’s going through.”
“I’m anxious to meet that person and every time that nominee comes to the Capitol, I’m going to watch to see if Sen. McConnell and Republicans run for cover, for fear that they’re going to get photographs taken with the nominee that they rejected without even meeting,” Durbin said before adding that the GOP has soured the water on Capitol Hill even further.
“Things are going to be rough around here for a while,” Durbin said with a frown.