On the morning after yet another tumultuous Super Tuesday presidential primary night, Washington got back to its familiar gridlock – this time over the important constitutional duty of filling a Supreme Court vacancy.
And as it all played out, I found myself thinking that the best analysis of what was happening was proclaimed by the unlikeliest of pundits – the late but legendary Israeli statesman Abba Eban. Never mind that he was obviously talking about an entirely different matter, in an entirely different era. We'll get to that after we set the scene.
At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Barack Obama stood in a sunny Rose Garden and introduced his nominee to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. It was a widely respected moderate jurist, U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland, whom even Republican senators had highly praised when he was confirmed to his U.S. District Circuit post.
Just 16 blocks down the avenue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood beneath the Senate’s television-ready bright lights and declared, basically: No way!
His speech in the near-empty chamber had just one message: This Republican-controlled Senate would never confirm this Democratic president’s Supreme Court choice in this presidential election year. Pay no attention to the Constitution’s instruction that the Senate’s duty is to provide a president advice and consent on his Supreme Court nominee.
That was the moment I heard the famous Oxford English-accented Eban delivering the perfect analysis of what the Republicans were doing to themselves, yet again. Of course, Eban was actually talking about Palestinian leaders. But what he said fits Washington’s Republicans perfectly.
He said they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
And that perfectly sums up the very avoidable mistake the Senate majority leader and his troops have insisted upon making, one more time.
Once again, McConnell insisted upon posing as the permanent poster boy for perpetual government gridlock. Even though Americans overwhelmingly say it’s one of the things they hate about Washington. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 55 percent of America’s registered voters disapprove of GOP plans to refusal to hold hearings and a vote on an Obama Supreme Court nominee this year; and 45 percent strongly disapprove.
For years, Republicans have run Congress with the public objective of making sure things don’t run on Capitol Hill – things proposed by Obama, that is. Republicans have shut down the government several times, angering voters each time, just to make their point. Once they slipped up, and Obama’s health care plan became law. So then Republicans voted 56 times to repeal Obamacare – despite knowing success was numerically impossible – and never offering a GOP alternative.
Now Obama has sent to the Senate the nomination of Garland, whom then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praised in 1997 as “highly qualified” for his present judgeship, adding: “His intelligence and his scholarship cannot be questioned.”
What is most bizarre is that Republicans rejected the notion of taking a political high road by holding hearings and a vote – even when they could still get the end result of voting no and keeping the seat vacant until America elects a new president.
That way, Republicans could even better stick it to Washington’s top two Democrats, who once took the same positions Republicans now hold. In 2006, Sen. Barack Obama joined a silly Democratic filibuster that failed to block President George W. Bush’s nomination of Justice Samuel Alito. In 1992, Senate Judiciary Chairman Joe Biden gave a Senate speech urging President George H. W. Bush to not try to fill any Supreme Court vacancy in that presidential election year. He also said it was “essential” the Senate not act on any presidential court pick until after the campaign. (At the time, I thought both were dead-wrong.)
Obama urged the Republicans to hold hearings and vote on Garland’s nomination – to fulfill their constitutional duty. Republicans can do that, fulfilling their constitutional obligation. Then they can vote against Garland’s nomination, if that’s what they really want. Instead, some Republicans say they won’t even extend the traditional courtesy of meeting with the distinguished judge whose excellence Republicans once praised.
True to their warped leadership, Republicans seem determined to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity – to do the right thing. Even when they can look positive and still achieve their negative, just-say-no objective, in the end.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.