Yesterday, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Jeb Bush whether the Senate should schedule hearings and a vote on Barack Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, and Bush shrugged it off. “[G]iven his choice of Supreme Court justices in the past the Senate of the United States should not confirm someone who’s out of the mainstream,” Bush replied, but Bash wanted to know whether Bush agreed with other Republicans that any appointment should be ignored. “It’s up to Mitch McConnell. That’s really not important to me,” Bush insisted.
Today, after a number of people criticized that response, Bush attempted to clarify his position with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. He doesn’t want anyone confirmed, Bush says, but doesn’t care what strategy is employed to get that result:
GUTHRIE: I want to make sure I understand your position on this. Senator McConnell of the Republican leadership suggests that a nominee put forward by President Obama would not get a vote. That it wouldn’t even come up in the Senate. Some of your rivals, namely, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, seem to support that approach. Where do you come down on it? Do you think a nominee of the president should come for an up or down vote in the Senate this year?
BUSH: It’s up to Mitch McConnell in the Senate. I’m not a senator. I’m not running for the United States Senate. If he’s going to take that path, I respect that completely. What shouldn’t happen is that in a election year, a president in a very divisive kind of time, should nominate someone and have it be passed. There shouldn’t be deference to the executive, is my point. Whether there’s an up or down —
GUTHRIE: Is that a cop-out, saying it’s up to Senator McConnell?
GUTHRIE: I mean, shouldn’t you take a position?
BUSH: I am taking a position. There should be – if there is an up or down vote, it should be rejected based on the history of how President Obama selects judges. If there’s no vote, that’s fine too. What I’m saying is there shouldn’t be, an Obama justice should not be appointed in an election year. Let this be an important part of the election process because there’s a lot riding on this. The Second Amendment, religious freedom and many other causes that are important for this country will be determined by this pick.
I’ve emphasized one line in this exchange for comparison to what Jeb said yesterday about Obama’s upcoming nomination:
He clearly has the power to do it, but given his choice of Supreme Court justices in the past the Senate of the United States should not confirm someone who’s out of the mainstream.
Call this the Schumer construction. In his first attempt, Bush tried to parse out a reasonable position by offering conditions that Obama would never meet, and that would allow for Republicans to justify ignoring any nomination Obama sent to the Senate on the basis of extremism. Unfortunately for Jeb, he didn’t make that clear enough, and then he topped it off by suggesting that this wasn’t serious enough to rise to a level of concern for a man running to succeed Obama in the Oval Office.
After that clearly blew up in his face, Bush has come back to emphasize his opposition to confirming any Supreme Court justices in 2016. He’s still sounds like he’s not terribly concerned about it, though, continuing to shrug it off onto Mitch McConnell, who doesn’t exactly have the trust of grassroots voters outside of Kentucky. Other Republican candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have grasped the emotional tenor of the situation for the rank and file and are sounding the alarm, which provides an even greater contrast to Bush in this instance. If nothing else, this shows again that Bush isn’t a terribly good instinctual campaigner, and in a season of populist emotion, that’s a major handicap in both parties.