Maybe sometimes, even in this crazy town and in this crazy season, the best policy turns out to be the best politics. In the context of the Supreme Court vacancy, President Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland may be the hardest for Republicans to reject — or, as they would prefer to have it, ignore.
Not that Garland’s confirmation is by any means likely; I’d rate his chances for the high court higher than John Kasich’s for the GOP nomination, though that’s not saying much. Still, I think Garland’s nomination comes the closest to making Senate Republicans an offer they can’t afford to refuse.
On the merits — and this is no slight to the other finalists; Garland simply has the longevity — he is the best qualified. He is the most moderate nominee Republicans could reasonably expect. His downside, in the view of Democrats, his age, should be a confirmation plus in the eyes of Republicans.
There was a lot of insider talk, before Obama chose Garland, about clever nomination strategies based on energizing demographic groups, deploying compelling narratives and putting certain senators in the uncomfortable position of opposing nominees they once endorsed.
Yes, Supreme Court nominations have increasingly taken on the aspect of political campaigns, but this was all a tad silly. And yes, the key to getting Garland confirmed, at least before the election, will be putting pressure on Republican senators up for reelection.
But perhaps the best way to put pressure on those senators is to pick a nominee they can’t fault — except for the fact that he was nominated by this president. The more reasonable, the more qualified, the more judicious the nominee appears, the harder it will be for voters to stomach the notion, and for senators to stick to the position that he doesn’t even deserve a meeting, much less a hearing.
Obama “could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man,” Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who not only voted to confirm Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit but spoke at his investiture, told the conservative website Newsmax last week. “He probably won’t do that because this appointment is about the election. So I’m pretty sure he’ll name someone the [liberal Democratic base] wants.”
Sen. Hatch, bluff called.
Note to Republican senators: Have you guys read the polls? Do you really think that if Donald Trump is your nominee, as is looking increasingly likely, he will beat Hillary Clinton? Do you think you’re going to like President Clinton’s Supreme Court pick any better?
And having staked your anti-confirmation case on the argument that the voters should have their say on replacing Justice Antonin Scalia, haven’t you backed yourself into a difficult corner if and when it comes to weighing that Clinton nominee?
Speaking of backing into corners, in an odd way the choice of Garland underscores that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knew what he was doing when he announced, immediately after the news of Scalia’s death, that the Senate would not take up any nominee.
This is an outrageous position, but McConnell rarely blunders on a tactical level, as some believed he did with the Scalia announcement. It would have been much harder for McConnell to keep his troops in line if he had waited to make that case until a nominee was named. And given the choice of Garland, the argument for inaction would look like a last-ditch effort — in the absence of any substantive count against him — rather than a purported stand on principle.
It was telling that Republican senators’ responses to the Garland nomination focused on criticism of the nomination, not the nominee. It was left to the Republican National Committee to issue a “meet Merrick Garland” news release depicting him as an anti-gun, pro-big government liberal.
Speaking of meeting Garland, I should probably disclose that he and I first met 30-plus years ago, when I was a law student interviewing with his firm for a summer job. Not only didn’t I get the job, I didn’t even get an invitation to come to Washington for a second-round interview.
So when I ran into Garland a few years later and jokingly chided him, he did something classically Garland: Meticulous as always, he checked the records, and reported back that the firm didn’t think I was serious about practicing law. Which proves that Garland has good judgment (I wasn’t) or good people skills (what a nice brush-off) or both.
Either way, another argument for the confirmation he so resoundingly deserves.