More than a quarter of the GOP Senate caucus is planning on meeting President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, which has set off discussions about cracks forming in the walls of the no hearings, no vote stance Republicans took upon the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assured radio host Hugh Hewitt this morning that there are no such breaches, and that there is no real precedent for confirming a Supreme Court nominee during a presidential year; he noted that you’d have to go back to Grover Cleveland in 1888 to find such an example. McConnell reiterated his stance that Judge Garland will not be confirmed by the Senate, nor will there be hearings. He also said that contrary to what many have been saying about Congress, the Republican Senate has been productive this Congress:
HUGH HEWITT: Well, I like doing the morning. It’s a lot more fun to get ahead of the news rather than try and catch up with it. Let me ask you, Senator McConnell. There are breathless reports nearly every day of cracks in the wall against the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. Do you see any cracks in that wall?
MITCH MCCONNELL: I don’t see any. We had a couple of our members in blue states that have a contrary view, but there’s, you know, 52 others who are very comfortable with no hearings or no votes. And the reason for that is pretty clear. You’d have to go back 80 years to find the last time a vacancy on the Supreme Court occurred in the middle of a presidential year and was confirmed by the Senate. You’d have to go all the way back to 1888 with Grover Cleveland, a Democrat in the White House, to find the last time a Senate of the opposite party confirmed a nominee to a vacancy on the Supreme Court occurring in a presidential year. If that were not enough, Hugh, as I’m sure you’ve talked on your show repeatedly, Joe Biden when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1992, a presidential election year, said if a vacancy occurred, they wouldn’t fill it. Harry Reid said ten years ago that the Constitution didn’t require the Senate to even have a vote. And Chuck Schumer, the next Democrat leader, apparently, helpfully said in terms of this particular issue, 18 months before the end of Bush 43’s second term that had a vacancy occurred, they wouldn’t fill it. So look, we know if the shoe was on the other foot, this was a Republican president nominating someone to the Supreme Court for a vacancy occurring in a presidential year, a Democratic Senate wouldn’t act on it. And we’re not going to, either.
HEWITT: So I am very justifiably proud about helping jump start #NoHearingsNoVotes. You believe there will be no hearings, and there will be no votes? You’re certain of that, Majority Leader McConnell?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, there will be no hearings and no votes. And I did notice, Hugh, that you picked up on that very quickly. And I think it’s been very helpful, because the left is all in a stew. You know, they’re out there running ads and have paid people to show up at Chairman Grassley’s town hall meetings to try to harass him. But he’s been the Rock of Gibraltar. I think the American people understand that they ought to weigh in. We’re right in the middle of a presidential election. And we ought to hear from them as to who they want the next president to be before we fill this vacancy, not Barack Obama on the way out the door, the lamest of lame ducks, basically tipping the balance on the Supreme Court to the left for who knows how long, maybe the next quarter of a century. This is no small issue, and I assure you the Senate will not act on a nominee by Barack Obama.
HEWITT: That doesn’t mean the Senate isn’t doing anything. In fact, yesterday you passed a long-awaited measure that is going to strengthen federal law and provide damages for U.S. companies affected by the theft of corporate intellectual property, according to The Hill this morning. That’s a product of bipartisanship. That’s a product of long overdue gears finally beginning to mesh between the House and the Senate. Hat’s off to you. Do you expect the President to sign that into law when it gets back to his desk through the House?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, of course he will, and you know, this has been an incredibly productive new Senate majority. The American people, even though they chose divided government by having a Democrat in the White House and Republican House and Senate, we’re not saying they didn’t want us to do anything. They were saying why don’t you look for things you can agree on and do those. And if you look back to this new majority, Hugh, a little over a year ago, we put the Keystone Pipeline on his desk. We put the repeal of Obamacare on his desk. We put defund Planned Parenthood on his desk. Of course, we knew he wouldn’t sign them, but we also looked for things that we could actually do together to improve our condition in this country. We did trade promotion authority, we did a rewrite of No Child Left Behind, the elementary and secondary education measure. We did a five year highway bill, which hasn’t been done since the 90s. We did cybersecurity. We did permanent R & D tax credit. We did permanent 179 expensing, which is particularly important to farmers. We did a permanent ban on the internet tax, the possibility of internet taxes. We passed an important heroin and opioid measure. We’re going to continue to do the work of the American people, and despite all of the rhetoric in the country, which I understand, because people are unhappy with the condition of the country, the Senate is passing a lot of important measures that are good for the country.
Nevertheless, Politico reported that conservatives are furious with Republicans who agreed to meet with Garland, though the vast majority of them undoubtedly wouldn’t vote for him in a hypothetical confirmation vote. There is some talk about a primary challenge to Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who said that Garland deserved to go through the confirmation process, or a hearing at the very minimum. He has since backtracked on those remarks. So, while there may be no real cracks in this GOP SCOTUS wall, the Democrats and the White House see these GOP meetings with Garland as a step in the right direction:
First, the right pounced on Jerry Moran after the Kansas senator cracked the door open to a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Now, conservatives are starting to turn on John Boozman.
The Arkansas Republican will meet with Garland on Tuesday, even though he says the confirmation process should go no further than courtesy meetings. But that isn’t enough for some on the right, who are upset with Boozman for merely sitting down with Garland.
“A little more than two weeks ago, Boozman vowed to join his Republican colleagues in the Senate and oppose any Supreme Court nominee while this president is in office,” FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon said Monday. “Now he is meeting with the nominee. It makes no sense. This is not the time for squeamishness or timidity.
Garland also plans to meet with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a host of Senate Democrats this week. Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Monday that he will also meet with Garland on April 13, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spoke with Garland on the phone Monday evening to invite the judge to breakfast on a to-be-determined date. Grassley plans to tell Garland “why the Senate will not consider a nominee until the next president takes office,” according to a Grassley aide.
The White House and Democratic senators see the Supreme Court fight as a game of inches, and they see the dozen or so Republicans willing to meet with Garland as the kind of incremental win that might boost their case for a hearing. But national pressure against Senate Republicans has produced little in the way of actual momentum for confirmation hearings; just Collins and Kirk support doing so before the November elections.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said her organization wouldn’t reflexively oppose any Senate Republican just for meeting with Garland.
“But I think that we believe very strongly that human nature will lead people to the first step, then they take the second step,” Dannenfelser added. “There needs to be some pretty strong assurances that they will go no further.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who is about to fight for her political life against Gov. Maggie Hassan, plans to meet with Garland, though she said she wouldn’t meet with any Obama nominee in February. Again, while the White House, the media, and Senate Democrats might try to paint Garland as a moderate, that’s hardly true when you look at his record. Are the optics bad when a quarter of the GOP caucus agrees to meet with Garland? It certainly isn’t good if you want to portray the Senate Republicans as united, but I don’t think much will come of these meetings. At the same time, Garland could be viewed as the lesser of two evils compared to the horror show that Clinton could unveil as her pick to fill Scalia’s vacancy.