Since both the President and Cocaine Mitch seem to be really enjoying victories in seating new justices on the Supreme Court, it might not have come as much of a surprise when McConnell recently suggested that if another vacancy should come up in 2020 he might just fill that one also. That was, of course, a deliberately provocative statement designed to put Democrats up on their hind legs, considering that they’re still smarting over the whole Merrick Garland thing.
But let’s just say that someone else does retire in 2020, just as the President’s reelection bid is getting up a full head of steam. No doubt President Trump would be ready, willing and eager to pluck another name off of his famous list and submit that person for confirmation. But the nominee would have to make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee before the Senate could vote on them. And as of yesterday, committee chair Chuck Grassley was throwing cold water on the idea.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday that he would not allow a Supreme Court vacancy to be filled in 2020, a position that puts him at odds with the Senate’s top Republican on an issue that has inflamed partisan tensions for more than two years.
In an interview with Fox News Channel’s Martha McCallum, Grassley was asked whether he believes the Senate should take up a hypothetical Supreme Court nomination during 2020, when President Trump will be up for reelection.
“If I’m chairman, they won’t take it up,” said Grassley, whose committee is charged with holding hearings on Supreme Court nominees. “No, because I pledged that in 2016, that if the ball’s the same as it is. Now, if somebody else is the chairman of the committee, they’ll have to decide for themselves. But that’s a decision I made a long time ago.”
At least on the surface, Grassley looks like he’s setting himself up to potentially walk into a political minefield. In the event that another vacancy comes up in 2020, if he blocks the nominee from even receiving a hearing the conservative base is going to rise up against him like a tsunami. The President would be calling for his hide to be pinned to the roof of a shed. To say it would get ugly is almost undoubtedly an understatement.
But Grassley is probably playing this hand in a clever fashion. By making this statement he gets to come off as the reasonable one. He set forth his own rules on how to handle the question two years ago and he’s sticking to them. More to the point, he gets to make this statement safe in the knowledge that he’ll almost certainly not be put to the test.
First of all, what are the odds that there’s an opening in 2020? If anyone else is going to retire between now and then, it’s probably going to be a conservative and they would likely do it in 2019, not 2020. (Thomas and Alito are the two oldest conservatives at 70 and 68 respectively. Neither shows any signs of looking toward the exits yet.) The oldest members of the liberal wing (Ginsburg and Breyer, both over 80) no doubt want to hold on in hopes of a Democrat being elected in 2020.
Let’s say worse comes to worst and there is an opening. Grassley may not even be the one making the call anyway. There’s already been talk of him moving over to become the chair of the Finance Committee next year. If that happens, guess who winds up taking his place on the Judiciary Committee, assuming the GOP still controls the Senate Majority Leader’s office. It’s almost certainly Lindsey Graham. That’s right… the same guy who has now gone into hulk mode and is still rather angry about the treatment Brett Kavanaugh received. Somehow I don’t think it would take much arm twisting for Graham to hammer through a 2020 nominee for a full vote.
So we probably shouldn’t read too much into Grassley’s statements about blocking a 2020 Trump SCOTUS nominee. Odds are he won’t end up having to make the call anyway.