SCOTUS Wars: Over A Quarter of Senate GOP Caucus Will Now Meet With Judge Garland

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Mar 30, 2016 2:53 PM
SCOTUS Wars: Over A Quarter of Senate GOP Caucus Will Now Meet With Judge Garland

In a previous post, it was noted how odd it is that Republican senators are meeting with President Obama’s Supreme Court pick, D.C Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, when they have no intention of confirming him. It just seems like an exercise in wasting time. At worst, it could be seen as a way for the GOP, especially those running in vulnerable races, of showing some attempt at outreach, or demonstrating that they’re somewhat taking their constitutional obligations on judicial nominations seriously, though it’s a rather transparent look at crafting a political escape hatch. I think most voters would probably see it that way; doing much while doing little. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped over a quarter of the GOP Senate caucus from agreeing to meet with Garland, according to Ari Melber (via NBC News):

Two weeks into the nomination fight, 16 Republican senators now say they will meet with Garland — over 25 percent of the GOP caucus — according to a running count by NBC News.

That includes senators up for re-election in Blue States, such as New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Illinois' Mark Kirk, who will be the first Republican to actually meet with Garland when they talk Tuesday.

The list also includes Republicans in Red States, such as Oklahoma, Alaska and Kansas.

"As a courtesy I would meet" with Garland, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, said earlier this month, while noting that he did still oppose the nomination.

Sen. Ron Johnson, currently campaigning for re-election in Wisconsin, said he had "no problem with meeting people." But given his opposition to Garland, he added, "I'm not sure what the point will be."

At least three GOP senators also back a hearing for Garland's nomination — moderates like Illinois' Kirk and Maine's Susan Collins, plus Kansas' Senator Jerry Moran — while most of their colleagues oppose both of those steps.

According to Garland's boosters and some GOP strategists, Republicans are abandoning opposition to meetings because it could make them appear obstructionist — or even rude.

Melber added that there is “ample polling” to suggest that the American public want Congress to vote on Garland’s nomination now, though Guy mentioned last month that the electorate is evenly split on filing the SCOTUS vacancy. Regardless, the whole notion of not meeting with Garland being rude is another weird angle to this fight. Is it rude not to meet with him, or is it even more insulting to meet with a person you have no interest in voting for when his nomination is brought to the Senate floor? Optics wise, is it worse that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided not to vote on judicial nominations until after the next president is sworn in come January 2017, or the appearance that he has no control of his caucus, a quarter of which is meeting with the president’s nominee? Frankly, the president doing the wave at a Cuban baseball game with Raul Castro seems to be a lot worse following the devastating terrorist attack in Brussels, which killed four Americans, that was only compounded by his weak sauce argument that if he had cancelled his appearance at the game–and either left for Washington or had gone to Brussels–the terrorists would win. The cherry on top was that of Obama doing the tango in Argentina, while Brussels took stock of the destruction.

So, frankly, when it comes to bad optics, Obama is the undisputed winner for now. These meetings, while probably frustrating to McConnell’s office, are no indication that Senate Republicans are moving towards a confirmation vote or supporting Garland. Maybe it’s a bit shocking that 16 GOP senators agreed to meet with the president’s nominee, but that’s about it. At the same time, if Hillary looks like she’s going to clinch a presidential win as November approaches, Garland may be the best worst option for conservatives regarding the Court’s balance. He isn’t perfect, but he is surely a lot better than any of Hillary’s would-be nominees, that’s for sure. Then again, if you watch this ad by the Judicial Crisis Network about Garland, you'll see how that could be a hard sell.