Another crack? GOP Sen. Thom Tillis fears party will be seen as obstructionist if it blocks Obama SCOTUS nominee sight unseen

What he said sounds much worse in The Hill’s account of his comments than the actual audio does.

The remarks from the North Carolina Republican are the first crack in GOP unity since Saturday’s stunning news of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, whose passing has put the tilt of the court in question. Scalia’s successor seems likely to determine whether its majority will lean liberal or conservative…

“I think we fall into the trap, if we just simply say sight unseen — we fall into the trap of being obstructionist,” he said in comments first noted by Think Progress, a left-leaning website.

Tillis added that he would not support a liberal nominee, and argued that Republicans should use “every device available” to block someone who is “in the mold of President Obama’s vision for America.”

Wait, so does that mean Tillis would consider a nominee from the center-left, someone a little further to the right than Obama would ideally prefer to nominate? Because given the track record of center-right appointees, like William Brennan and David Souter, a center-left appointee is likely to “grow in office” into outright communism. Tillis’s opinion matters, too. He’s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Chuck Grassley, raised the possibility yesterday of at least giving Obama’s nominee a hearing. If Tillis chose to vote with Democrats to confirm a center-lefty, the Committee would be deadlocked. If another Republican joined him in crossing the aisle, the nominee would pass the Committee and McConnell would suddenly be under immense pressure to give him or her a floor vote. And with centrist Republicans like Mark Kirk and Susan Collins quietly resisting the GOP’s “no hearing, no vote!” demands (so far), there’s at least a small chance that the nominee would clear 50 yays in a full confirmation vote. Republicans might be forced to filibuster the nomination despite having control of the Senate.

But wait, let’s back up. Would Tillis really consider a center-left nominee? Here’s a bit that The Hill left out:

“If he puts forth someone that we think is in the mold of President Obama’s vision for America, then we’ll use every device available to block that nomination,” Tillis said. He advised the president to nominate someone who has “an almost identical resume and capabilities of Justice Scalia.”

If that’s Tillis’s demand for considering a nominee on the merits, that Obama enrage his base by giving the other party precisely the sort of nominee they’d prefer, then there’s nothing to worry about here. Obama obviously won’t comply. The question is how far someone like Tillis would be willing to compromise if O was willing to compromise by nominating someone like, say, Sri Srinivasan, who clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor and appellate judge Harvie Wilkinson, both of whom were Reagan appointees, and then spent five years working for George W. Bush in the Solicitor General’s office. Would Srinivasan at least merit a hearing? If he gets a hearing, would Tillis insist on a Committee vote? If so, how would he vote? The degree to which conservatives are spooked about this vacancy, with even the barest hint of concessions from Republicans capable of starting a populist panic, is matched in my experience only by suspicions over immigration “compromises.” Why McConnell, Grassley, and Tillis would want to endure even a week of being accused of selling out by entertaining the idea of a hearing, especially when Trump stands to reap the benefits of Republican anger, is mystifying. Especially since there’s plenty of lefty hypocrisy, starting with Obama and Schumer, that can be used to justify stonewalling.

Speaking of which, Schumer is predicting a GOP cave:

“When the hard right doesn’t get its way, their immediate reaction is, ‘shut it down’ — and the Republican leadership marches in lockstep. ‎They did it in 2013 when they tried to shut down the government, and they’re doing it today with their attempt to shut down the Supreme Court,” Schumer said…

“Just as in 2013, when there was a huge public outcry and the Republican leadership had to back off, the same will happen now — and they will have to back off this extreme, partisan stance,” Schumer said.

I wouldn’t bet against him. Here’s an interesting question, though, that many righties probably haven’t considered: Does the left want Obama to make this appointment? Given the line the GOP has drawn here, O really does have to nominate someone who can plausibly be sold as centrist. Republicans might reject him/her anyway, but in that case Obama at least gets to argue that it was simple obstructionism that caused the nomination to fail and therefore the GOP should be punished in November. If he nominates a hard leftist, Republicans could torpedo the nomination and then plausibly claim that they did it on the merits, not out of obstructionism. All the more reason why we need a Republican president filling this vacancy next year, to prevent the crazy left for pushing another radical onto the Court. Which, if you’re a leftist, means that your only chance of filling this vacancy now is if O nominates someone much further to the right than you’d prefer — and meanwhile, if you’re simply patient for a year and all goes according to plan in November, you may have a new Democratic president and a new Democratic president Senate in charge of this process next January. You can possibly get half a loaf now, in other words, or wait a year and a get either a whole loaf or nothing. How should a progressive bet?

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