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Opinion Democrats troll GOP by floating a Republican for the Supreme Court

A hearse carrying the casket of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, departs the Supreme Court on Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

Mike DeBonis and Juliet Eilperin scoop:

Brian Sandoval, the centrist Republican governor of Nevada, is being vetted by the White House for a possible nomination to the Supreme Court, according to two people familiar with the process….
Some Democrats believe that nominating Sandoval could fracture the front of Republican opposition and force [Mitch] McConnell to take up the nomination in this contentious election year. It would also put on the spot a handful of Senate Republicans who are up for reelection in blue states in November.
But nominating Sandoval would carry risks for Obama. Sandoval is aligned with Democrats on some key issues, including abortion rights and the environment. As governor, he has moved to implement the Affordable Care Act, and has said he considers same-sex marriage to be a settled issue.
But Sandoval is not seen as labor-friendly — potentially alienating a swath of the Democratic base. His legal credentials are also lacking compared to some of the other names  under consideration who are mainly sitting federal judges.

Whatever Sandoval’s virtues, this seems to carry a heavy element of trolling. Senate Republicans have now confirmed that they won’t give any consideration to Obama’s nominee, whoever it is. This float seems designed, at least in part, to underscore the absurdity of this position, as in: Republicans won’t even consider a Republican nominee for the court if Obama is the one who nominated him.

Already, Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican, has told reporters that even Sandoval would not get consideration; the GOP position remains the same. Other Republican Senators, such as Orrin Hatch and Dan Coates, have now responded in the same way.

Whatever the real motive here, Democrats almost certainly risk inflaming their base if Obama nominates someone, with the goal of winning over Republicans, who is seen as hostile to progressive values or is seen as prone to advancing business interests. This statement from Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of Democracy for America, underscores the point:

“It’s downright absurd that President Obama would risk his legacy by appointing another anti-labor Republican like Brian Sandoval to an already overwhelmingly pro-big business Supreme Court. Nominating someone like Sandoval would not only prevent grassroots organizations like DFA from supporting the President in this nomination fight, it could lead us to actively encouraging Senate Democrats to oppose his appointment.”

Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee adds this warning shot:

“A Democratic president should appoint a nominee with a proven record in support of workers, women, minorities, and democracy issues. Whether it’s a brilliant legal mind or a Republican governor, the nominee should be held to that high standard — and if Republican senators want to obstruct such a nominee, the American people will hold them accountable and public pressure will mount until they cave.”

To be clear, there are potential moderate nominees that could put Republicans in a tough spot but also would not alienate the left. One example is probably Sri Srinivasan, who is “considered a moderate,” has been praised by Republicans, and was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit by a 97-0 vote.

However real the Sandoval trial balloon is, this is a reminder that this political fight is about to enter into a very new phase: one in which Obama has actually nominated someone. It’s very likely that person will end up being a moderate, given that Obama wants to have at least a chance of getting his nominee considered.

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Of course, it has already been reported that the explicit reason Republicans don’t want to hold hearings for any nominee is that so doing would draw still more attention to that person’s life story and qualifications, making it harder still for Republicans to vote against that nominee. But even if Republicans stick by this strategy, that itself will draw a lot of attention, throwing the GOP refusal to consider or even meet with a specific nominee into even sharper relief.

The immediate question then will be how long vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents who are up for reelection in states carried by Obama can stand behind the GOP leadership’s position that no one nominated by the President will get any consideration.