President Obama has called Senate Republicans’ bluff, in just about the biggest way that was also realistic. From the Washington Post:
“President Obama announced Wednesday he is nominating Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, setting up a protracted political fight with Republicans who have vowed to block any candidate picked by the White House.
“Garland, 63, is a longtime Washington lawyer and jurist who is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Considered a moderate, Garland is widely respected in the D.C. legal community and was also a finalist for the first two Supreme Court vacancies Obama filled.
“Seven sitting Republican senators voted to confirm Garland in 1997: Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Orrin Hatch (Utah), James M. Inhofe (Okla.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Pat Roberts (Kan.).
“GOP lawmakers, though, have said since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month that Obama should leave the choice of a new justice to his successor and that they have no intention of holding a hearing or a vote on the president’s pick.”
I call it the biggest, most realistic way Obama could call their bluff because Garland is probably the most acceptable choice Obama would actually make. He wasn’t going to call their bluff by nominating someone like William Pryor or Miguel Estrada. But nor did he choose another clearly liberal figure like Elena Kagan. Garland is probably the most moderate choice he could make, and his age — he’d be the oldest person to join the court since Lewis Powell in 1972 — means his career would probably be closer to 15 years than the 30 or more years a younger candidate might serve. So his selection presents the GOP with a bigger dilemma than they might have anticipated.
As I wrote before, a choice like this might be the best outcome Republicans could actually get at this point. Garland doesn’t hold conservative views on issues such as gun control, but the idea Obama would nominate someone completely amenable to conservatives is fantasy. So is the notion a Republican Party that is in the process of tearing itself apart will somehow end up putting forward a conservative presidential nominee who can win in November and nominate a conservative to the court. The results of Tuesday’s voting make it more likely than ever that the next president — for whom senators have been trying to run out the clock — will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. And it’s probably no coincidence Obama revealed his choice after those results came in. Trump’s choice is utterly unpredictable, and in any case his nomination would make it more likely Clinton would win the election. Clinton’s path is easy to predict: She’d choose someone far more liberal, and probably younger, than Garland. This is the bind in which Republican senators find themselves.
Do I wish Republican voters were giving senators more hope that an actual conservative will become president and nominate a truly fitting replacement for Antonin Scalia? Absolutely. But as they say, elections have consequences — and in this case, so do primary elections. Call this the first conservative casualty of Donald Trump’s campaign.