As Biden told my colleague E.J. Dionne back in 1992, “If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the president not name someone, not send a name up,” Dionne quotes Biden as saying. “If [President George H.W. Bush] did send someone up, I would ask the Senate to seriously consider not having a hearing on that nominee.” Biden continued on, telling Dionne, “Can you imagine dropping a nominee, after the three or four or five decisions that are about to made by the Supreme Court, into that fight, into that cauldron in the middle of a presidential year? I believe there would be no bounds of propriety that would be honored by either side. … The environment within which such a hearing would be held would be so supercharged and so prone to be able to be distorted.”
The president gave the game away when asked about these sorts of remarks. He had no point of principle nor argument for distinguishing 1992 from 2016. Instead, he blithely declared, “First of all, we know senators say stuff all the time. Second of all, these were comments [in 1992] where there was no actual nomination. That’s not the same. It has no application to the actual situation that we have right now.” Huh? Is he suggesting that if Bush 41 had sent up a nomination, Biden would have changed his mind? I would think Biden would have had more intellectually integrity and steadfastness than that. In any case, these are not arguments on principle, or really arguments at all. At best, they are silly excuses that boil down to: I get to do what I want since now I am president. That’s fine, but then let’s get over the notion this is about principle.
Even more revealing of the president’s utterly partisan motives was his decision to float the name of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) as a potential nominee. It’s preposterous. Sandoval would never accept the nomination, for it would signal the end of his political career with no hope of actually getting confirmed. Liberal groups would be (and were) understandably chagrined by the prospect of “wasting” a nominee in such fashion. And the president would not want an unreliable vote on the court anyway. Floating Sandoval’s name was designed to flush out any dissenters in Republican ranks. It did not work, but it did confirm that this is all political gamesmanship.
The president should stop playing games. Name his nominee — if he can find someone willing to twist in the wind. The Senate will not confirm, or likely vote. (Although my own proposal might give both sides an out.) The election will occur, and control of the White House and Senate will be determined. The new president will name his or her nominee. The republic will survive.
It is not the position the president takes that is so irritating. It is the pretense of virtue, and the accusation that everyone but he operates from base motives.