Surprise: Obama vetting GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval for Scalia’s Supreme Court seat

posted at 4:01 pm on February 24, 2016 by Allahpundit

Gotta give credit where it’s due. Obama and his pal Harry know how to troll Republicans.

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…

Sandoval met Monday with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid, a fellow Nevadan with whom he enjoys cordial relations.

A person familiar with the conversation said that while Sandoval told Reid he had not made a final decision on whether he would accept a Supreme Court nomination, he would allow the vetting process to move forward. Another person in Nevada familiar with the process confirmed that the process is underway.

Sandoval is pro-choice, expanded Medicaid, and oversaw Nevada’s construction of its own ObamaCare exchange (after the first attempt went sideways). He’s as “friendly” to Democrats as a modern Republican gets. Even so, I’m trying to imagine the reaction on the right if a Supreme Court vacancy opened up and a Republican president decided to bypass scores of conservative justices to nominate a center-left Democrat. And not just any center-left Democrat but someone who’s arguably underqualified: Sandoval spent a few years as attorney general of Nevada and then a handful more as a federal district judge, but most SCOTUS nominees have extensive appellate experience. Maybe Obama could sell this to the left on grounds that, with a Republican majority in the Senate vowing they’ll obstruct anyone he puts forward, a centrist Republican nominee is the best they can hope for. I doubt the right would go for that if the tables were turned, though; they’d want a Republican president to name a mainstream conservative and then fight tooth and nail to break the Senate’s will.

Maybe Obama could convince liberals that naming Sandoval would be worth it for the lulz. McConnell and Grassley would start to sweat as the White House proclaimed that the GOP is so intractable they’d actually block a member of their own party from the High Court out of personal pique towards Obama. Dean Heller, the Republican senator from Nevada, would likely cave immediately and call for McConnell to confirm Sandoval. The usual suspects, like Kirk, Collins, McCain, and Graham, would crumble too and join him. Soon you’d have open warfare within the GOP over whether to at least give Sandoval a Judiciary Committee hearing, and once the hearing was held there’d be pressure for a vote, and once that vote was held there’d be pressure for a floor vote. Like I say, Obama and Reid know how to troll. Kicking Sandoval onto the Supreme Court would also remove a major political stumbling block for Democrats in Nevada. Sandoval has been touted as an eventual Senate candidate; in the post-Trump GOP, with centrism newly respectable on the right again, it’s not nutty to think he’d have a half-serious eleventh-hour conversion on abortion down the road and run for president. Putting him on the Court, where he’ll be a reliable vote for Roe, would extract him from the political arena in his home state and beyond for the rest of his life. And Sandoval seems open to the opportunity:

“It would be a privilege,” Sandoval said Saturday. The Supreme Court “is the essence of justice in this country.”

Sandoval was unanimously confirmed by the Senate when he was nominated to a district court position by President George W. Bush in 2005, on Reid’s recommendation. He quit four years later to mount a challenge to Nevada’s incumbent governor, a race he won easily. But Sandoval has always said he wouldn’t mind returning to the bench at some point.

“I loved my job as a judge when I did it,” Sandoval said Saturday. “I, as I sit here, don’t know what I’m going to do next. But I do know I’m the governor of Nevada.”…

Asked which Supreme Court justices he admired, Sandoval pointed to Sandra Day O’Connor, who served in Arizona’s state legislature before becoming a federal judge and, eventually, the first woman to serve on the high court.

How does O’Connor II sound, conservatives? Look on the bright side: This time, at least you’ll know going in that Sandoval’s prepared to sell you out on abortion.

Now, let me blow your mind with a hypothesis: With Trump as the near-certain GOP nominee, the Senate Republican majority is better off making a deal with Obama to confirm someone this year than waiting for the results of the election. Think about it. If Hillary wins, she’ll want to impress liberals who held their noses and turned out for her so she’ll nominate someone who’s reliably left-wing. The GOP could block that nominee, as we’ll have enough seats for a filibuster next year even in a worst-case scenario, but Schumer could always nuke the filibuster — and even if he doesn’t, there’s no running out the clock on Hillary. You can Bork her first nominee, but resistance will wear down for the second. She’ll wait us out. If Trump wins, meanwhile, the Senate GOP will be a in bind. They can work on him behind the scenes to appoint a strong conservative to the Court, but Trump’s likely to drift towards the center, not towards the right, in the general election. If he beats Hillary, it’ll be with a centrist coalition. He may try to reward those voters and set the tone for his presidency with a centrist Court nominee capable of winning votes from both parties. What do Senate Republicans do then, with the new leader of the party fresh off his stunning presidential victory? Do they dare try to Bork his choice right out of the gate? Not a chance, I think, which means you’re trusting Donald Trump to make a strong conservative pick and spare them that dilemma. How lucky do you feel?

All of that being so, the Senate GOP may never have as much leverage over the next justice as it does right now. Republicans have a majority for the moment and they’re under far less pressure to confirm an Obama nominee than they’d be under with Hillary or Trump in the White House. If you believe the conventional wisdom about Trump as a weak nominee with poor favorables who’ll ruin Republicans down-ballot, they’re also far less likely to maintain that Senate majority next year than they’d be with Rubio at the top of the ticket. They can dictate some terms if they want to make a deal with O right now (although not on abortion, alas). With Hillary or Trump, they might not be able to dictate any. Why wait for next year, then, rather than make a deal right now?

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