Uh oh: Grassley not ruling out Judiciary Committee hearings for Obama's SCOTUS nominee; Update: Obama defends filibustering Alito

What could go wrong?

“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions,” Grassley told reporters this morning. “In other words, take it a step at a time.”…

“This is a very serious position to fill and it should be filled and debated during the campaign and filled by either Hillary Clinton, Senator Sanders or whoever’s nominated by the Republicans,” Grassley said…

Grassley today said he is now embracing the “same spirit” advanced by a key Democrat eight years ago…

New York Senator Chuck Schumer said in 2007 that Democrats should not confirm any Bush nominee to the Supreme Court unless they “prove by actions not words that they are in the mainstream.” There were no Supreme Court openings in 2008. The last election-year vote in the senate came in 1988. President Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy in November of 1987 and he was confirmed in February of that election year.

In 2008, when Schumer was out there advancing the idea of stonewalling Bush’s election-year nominees, Grassley said, “The reality is that the senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’s term.” Now they’ve essentially flipped positions. Go figure.

Is the possibility that the Judiciary Committee might hold hearings something we should worry about? There’s nothing wrong with a hearing in theory, and as far as I know, Grassley would be under no obligation to hold a committee vote on the nominee after the hearing just as McConnell would be under no obligation to bring the nomination to the floor even if they did. Ultimately it’s McConnell’s call. You could even argue that the hearing would be an opportunity for the GOP to damage the nominee and place their obstruction on firmer ground. If they can get the nominee to admit to holding some objectionable view, they could cite that rather than the fact that it’s an election year as justification for their opposition. And from an electoral standpoint, holding a hearing would help Grassley. Remember, his seat is up this November in a state (Iowa) that’s gone Democratic during the last two presidential elections. Democratic turnout will be high. It’ll be easier for him to keep that seat if he can show centrist Iowans that he did something to give Obama’s nominee a respectful hearing, even if the odds of a final Senate vote are remote.

On the other hand, how likely is it that the Committee would hold a hearing and then not vote on the nomination? If they do vote and reject the nominee on party lines, Obama could then turn around and nominate someone else. Will Grassley hold a hearing on that nominee too? Meanwhile, it’d only take two Republicans on the committee to vote yes with the Democrats to send the nominee out of committee and over to McConnell, which seems unlikely given the state of Republican opinion but not impossible given that the Committee includes Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake. (Graham said this past weekend that the odds of anyone being confirmed are near zero.) Holding hearings will also start a panic on the right that Senate Republicans are about to cave, which might give Trump and Cruz a boost in the primaries, something that McConnell presumably wants to avoid. And of course, while Grassley is worried about Democratic turnout in the fall, he’d also have to worry about tea partiers treating him as a Judas for holding hearings and refusing to turn out for him. As for using the process to damage the nominee, when was the last time Republicans have put a hurt on a Democrat in a hearing? There are no Borks on the left in modern history, thus there’s every reason to believe the hearings would be used by the media to build the case that the nominee is qualified and impressive and deserves a floor vote as a matter of decency. Grassley’s better off declining to hold anything and hiding behind McConnell. If an incumbent who’s been in the Senate for 35 years can’t survive crossing the left once on something like this, he’s probably likely to lose anyway.

Via BuzzFeed, here’s Ben Carson helpfully noting that if a Republican president tried to nominate someone to fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year, Republicans would want that person to get a vote. Exit question: If the Senate turns blue this fall, which presumably also means a new Democratic president, would O dare try to nominate someone and have him/her confirmed in the two weeks next January when the new Senate is in session while he’s still president? Or would that be resented by President Hillary (who’s currently insisting that Obama has the right to make this appointment)?

Update: Here’s O all but admitting that he filibustered Alito because he needed to pander to his Democratic base. And therefore, Republicans shouldn’t satisfy their own base by blocking Obama’s new nominee because … why?

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