Since the reporting of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, most Republicans have rallied around the pledge to hold no hearings or votes on any potential replacement nominated by Barack Obama. The media has tried to find cracks in the front for almost as long, and found a couple of them with Senators Mark Kirk and Susan Collins; Kirk faces uncertain electoral prospects in a blue state [see update below]. Yesterday, however, Mitch McConnell declared that the Senate Republican Caucus had reached a firm consensus that no hearings or votes would take place:
“I can now confidently say the view shared by virtually everyone in my conference is that the nomination should be made by the president who the people elect in the election that is underway right now,” McConnell said.
“In short, there will not be action taken,” he said.
The Hill reports that the Senate Judiciary Committee has already declared that it won’t take up any nominations to the Supreme Court:
“We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president,” Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) told reporters Tuesday after a special meeting of the committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said members of the panel reached a “consensus” that there should not be hearings or a vote on President Obama’s nominee.
“My decision is that I don’t think we should have a hearing. We should let the next president pick the Supreme Court justice,” he said after emerging from a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office.
Frankly, that’s game over — as long as both McConnell and Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley stick to their guns. Mark Kirk and Susan Collins have no real input into this decision. Hearings on nominations get scheduled by the majority party in Judiciary; floor votes on confirmations get scheduled through the Senate Majority Leader. If Grassley and McConnell don’t want hearings to take place, then they simply won’t take place. Having unanimity among the Republicans on Judiciary strengthens that position even further. The only way that Kirk and Collins could impact that position would be in a confirmation vote — which has been mooted, at least for now.
That lack of impact does give Kirk and other purple-state Senate Republicans running for re-election in 2016 an out, however. They can disagree publicly with their caucus without doing any real damage to the blockade. It might anger those who have passionately advocated for the “Biden Rules” as undermining the argument, but it’s smart politics, especially if it can help maintain a Republican majority in 2017 — no easy feat, considering the lopsided number of seats the GOP will be defending in November.
Normally, the principles of effective government would push reasonable people to urge Senate Republicans to seek a compromise. Repeated efforts by Senate Democrats to impose “Biden Rules” on Republican presidents in 1992 and 2007, as well as Harry Reid’s unilateral demolishing of the Senate filibuster on judicial confirmations to allow Obama to stack the DC Court of Appeals, demands that Democrats pay a price for their own obstructionism and double standards. Without suffering adverse consequences, one party would be left with all the incentives to continue its assault on comity and reasonableness. Perhaps by the end of 2016, Senate Democrats will be open to establishing forward-looking rules to avoid these kinds of political plays. Until then, they can live by the rules they demanded over the last 24 years.
Update, 2/25 7 pm: Senator Collins’ office reminded me that she actually won a new term in 2014 and is not up for re-election, as I originally wrote. I have corrected that in the lead paragraph, and in the second-to-last paragraph as well. My apologies for the error.