Monday, February 15, 2016

McConnell's Belligerance on Nomination Could Cost GOP the Senate

As noted in other posts, I find Senator Mitch McConnell distasteful at best and now he has turned into a shameless whore for the ugliest elements in the GOP base with his pledge to block any nominee for the Supreme Court to fill the now vacant see of Antonin Scalia, long a toxic force in the American judiciary.  As a piece in the New York Times notes, McConnell's games may cost the GOP control of the U.S. Senate by setting the stage for constant attacks on Republican senators already facing an uphill battle for re-elections. I for one hope McConnell's self-prostitution blows up in his face and that in 2017 he will find himself Senate minority leader at best.  Here are article highlights:

Senator Mitch McConnell’s strategy to maintain the Republican majority has been clear: trying to prove that his party can govern. But by saying he will block a Supreme Court nominee who has not even been named, Mr. McConnell is headed toward partisan warfare instead.

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has energized a right flank that has been long suspicious of Mr. McConnell and forced him into a fight that is likely to derail his smooth-functioning Senate. The tactic could alienate moderate voters and imperil incumbent Republicans in swing states, but in the supercharged partisanship of a Supreme Court fight, he probably had no choice.

He has spent his leadership of the slender Republican majority balancing the demands of conservatives, who view Mr. Obama’s presidency as an eight-year constitutional crisis, and his obligations to vulnerable Republicans up for re-election this year. He has chosen the conservatives.

But events in the coming months could confound that decision. Mr. Obama’s nominee will put a face on what Democrats will call a clear case of obstruction, giving them someone to rally around. And a divided court must render decisions on abortion-clinic access, affirmative action at universities and Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration. Every deadlocked 4-to-4 decision will spotlight the Senate’s inaction, amplifying Democrats’ cries of irresponsibility but also highlighting the stakes for conservatives set against enabling a left-leaning court majority.

Mr. McConnell’s strategic affront — announcing just hours after Justice Scalia’s death that he would refuse to even consider a replacement — was presaged by other Republican moves over the last two years. A week ago, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said the president’s budget director should not be allowed to testify at their budget hearings, a move without modern precedent.
Mr. McConnell, who has spent most of his career steering away from ideological positions, has been known to take fast turns to the right in early stages of a public debate, such as when he endorsed Senator Rand Paul, his fellow Kentuckian, for president in the incipient stages of his now-suspended campaign. He has also tended to tilt right in debates on the Senate floor on policy issues.

In a twist, the greatest beneficiary of Mr. McConnell’s strategy may be the Republican White House candidate he and his Senate Republicans like the least — Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a former Supreme Court clerk whose quick and stalwart opposition to any confirmation is certain to resonate with the most tuned-in Republican primary voters.

Mr. McConnell’s move makes for uncomfortable times for someone like Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who has a very late primary in a swing state and on Sunday released a statement that said she supported Mr. McConnell’s decision. Endorsing Mr. McConnell’s strategy could hurt her in the general election , especially if 4-to-4 decisions on the Supreme Court start piling up.

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who is also up for re-election, issued a statement of condolence to Justice Scalia’s family without mentioning the ensuing confirmation fight already engulfing Washington.

“McConnell’s precipitous action is reminiscent of his statement in 2010 that his prime goal was to prevent Mr. Obama’s re-election,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. “Obama hadn’t presented his proposals for the upcoming Congress; now he hasn’t named a nominee for the court. He realizes it’s better for his senators up for re-election to show he is working in a bipartisan way, but any efforts in that direction have been undone by that action.”

Mr. Schumer and other Democrats note that two of the justices on court — Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — were nominated by Republican presidents and confirmed when Democrats held the majority in the Senate.

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