Tuesday, February 16, 2016

History -- and the Constitution -- Says the Senate Should Confirm an Obama Court Nominee

History holds many clues to which way the Senate should move. Good luck expecting dignified and constitutional behavior from our current crop of Republican leaders.

Mitch McConnell: Republican deer in the constitutional headlights?

Most observers say that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened his yap a bit too fast last Saturday when he made it clear he would not cooperate -- as is his constitutional duty -- with President Obama and his own duty to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died overnight. Within minutes, practically, a whole host of Republican leaders and all GOP candidates for the presidency chimed in: no Supreme Court appointment this year.

Republicans reached for historical precedent and botched the facts. It turns out that there is ample precedent for appointing and confirming court justices in a presidential election year.

It's not surprising that the GOP would mishandle the optics. What drives this is not reason but an unhealthy fear of the reactionary GOP base. Then reality set in, offering little hope that there was a way to finesse this unexpected election-year challenge. It seems clear, however, that the wiser move would have been to breathe, think, then open mouth.

A conciliatory approach toward Obama would have been smart: Offer to work with him to choose a moderate acceptable to both sides. An earlier Obama would have jumped at this, but even today's Obama remains disposed to compromise. But to begin the process with fighting words such as "no way, no how" leaves the Democrats in the driver's seat. Oops.

Now strategists on both sides are wracking their brains for the next best chess move. Opinion leaders on both sides are coming up with scenarios. Barack Obama has some pretty interesting choices he could make. Should he offer up that moderate that would be hard for the Republicans to justify outright rejection? Or should he go for the jugular with a clearly liberal pick whose rejection would fire up the largest multitude of the Democratic base?

If Republicans wise up, walk back their original enthusiasm for obstruction, there's a chance Obama will meet them half-way. After all, he's predisposed to such a "bargain." But if Republicans -- perhaps driven by the rabid-dog candidates currently on the stump -- fail to give way, or at least appear to, then don't be surprised when the president goes hardball. He's a nice guy, but no chump.

This could get interesting.

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