Since Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley is making sure that the committee he runs completely ignores Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, one might think that he’s using the extra time to at least process the president’s many circuit and district nominees. Not!
While Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brazen and unprecedented refusal to consider Garland has drawn a great deal of attention, PFAW has long reported on how this obstruction, far from being unique to Garland, is an extension of how the Senate GOP has treated President Obama’s lower court nominees for most of his time in office.
Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a tremendous contribution to the national conversation, issuing a new report entitled Going to Extremes: The Supreme Court and Senate Republicans’ Unprecedented Record of Obstruction of President Obama’s Nominees." The senator covers how Republicans have worked hard not to thoughtfully vet both judicial and executive branch nominations, but to slow down their confirmations as much as possible, or block their confirmations altogether.
She uses Senate Republicans’ own statements about the Garland nomination to show the disingenuousness of the rationales for obstruction they present to the public and demonstrates that their obstruction is unprecedented. And with a prosecutor’s efficiency, she makes the powerful case that the GOP has consistently and deliberately slow-walked or blocked altogether the president’s circuit and district court nominees, as well as his executive branch nominees.
Supported with facts and figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Sen. Warren’s new report is a devastating indictment of a political party that has misused the confirmation process to prevent the executive and judicial branches from functioning effectively to protect consumers and workers, hold large corporations accountable, and protect equality.
As she notes in the report’s conclusion:
From the moment the Supreme Court vacancy arose, Senate Republicans linked arms in an attempt to deny President Obama the full authority of his office in the final year of his presidency. They cynically claimed they wish to “let the people decide,” but the people have already decided. Twice. They elected President Obama in 2008 by nine million votes and re-elected him in 2012 by five million votes. Republicans’ statements over many weeks have made clear that their true interest is what it has been for the past eight years: to block and hinder President Obama at every turn, dragging out or blocking outright the confirmation of nominees across the government and the courts.
As the report shows, the GOP has a shameful record of obstruction going back to President Obama’s first days in office. The unprecedented blockade against Garland is only the apex of a pattern that has gone on for years.
While many Americans grimly wonder which would be worse for the country, President Donald Trump or President Ted Cruz, one issue isn’t providing much help: Both candidates are making it clear that their potential nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court would be terrible.
We reported yesterday on Cruz’s suggestions that he would nominate his best friend in the Senate, Utah’s Mike Lee. Under his extreme views of the Constitution, much of what the federal government does is unconstitutional, including Social Security and Medicare.
What about Trump? Last year, Trump called Clarence Thomas his favorite justice. This year, he declared Justice Antonin Scalia’s death a “massive setback” for the conservative movement and joined right-wing conspiracy theorists in raising suspicions that Scalia had been murdered.
Last month Trump tossed out the names of two right-wing appeals court judges, William Pryor and Diane Sykes, as two potential nominees from a Trump administration. Pryor calls Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona, two landmark cases protecting the rights of women and criminal defendants, respectively, “the worst examples of judicial activism.” Sykes, like Pryor, has upheld damaging voter ID laws. She also argued that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to receive government subsidies regardless of whether they engage in discrimination.
Now, Trump is pledging to release a list of seven to 10 potential justices from which he commits to choosing a nominee – and that list is being put together with help from the far-right Heritage Foundation. Heritage is a massively funded right-wing powerhouse that is home to, among others, anti-marriage-equality activist Ryan Anderson, who is urging social conservatives to resist the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.
Heritage and its more explicitly political arm Heritage Action have demanded even greater obstructionism from congressional Republicans. Even before Scalia’s death, the group had urged the GOP to refuse to confirm any executive branch or judicial nominations except for appointments dealing with national security. Heritage senior fellow Hans von Spakovsky has even demanded that Scalia be allowed to “vote” – even though he is dead – on a case that right-wing activists were hoping the court would use to destroy public sector unions.
Trump met in Washington yesterday with congressional Republicans, and at a press conference he pushed back against accusations by Cruz that he couldn’t be counted on to name a conservative to the court. “Some people say maybe I’ll appoint a liberal judge,” he said. “I won’t.” He promised that his nominee would be “pro-life” and “conservative.”
Trump also explicitly warned (or taunted, depending on your view) Republicans opposed to his nomination that if they support a third-party candidate against him, they will allow a Democrat to name Supreme Court justices who “will never allow this country to be the same.”
Among the Republicans huddling with Trump? Heritage Foundation president and former Sen. Jim DeMint.
Update: Grassley and McConnell have at last accepted Obama’s invitation to discuss potential nominees at the White House, although they are still refusing to hold hearings or a vote on any potential nominee.
As Senate Republicans close ranks in an attempt to prevent President Obama from nominating the next Supreme Court justice, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have declared that they will refuse to hold a hearing on Obama’s nominee, no matter who it is. On top of that, the Des Moines Register reports that the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, hasn’t even responded to an invitation from the White House to discuss possible nominees.
The Republicans’ unprecedented Supreme Court blockade exposes the lie that has undergirded eight years of GOP obstructionism: that President Obama is “the most divisive” president in history and that he refuses to reach across the aisle.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just an hour after the news broke of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, made it clear that he didn’t intend to consider any Obama nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, has called Obama the “most divisive” president he’s worked with. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator and presidential candidate, has said that Obama is the most “divisive” political figure in modern history. The claim has been repeated over and over again in talk radio and the halls of Congress. Texas Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz complained after Obama’s final State of the Union address last month that the president “lectures us on civility yet has been one of the most divisive presidents in American history."
As Paul Waldman wrote in “The Week” last month, the primary example of the “divisive” Obama that Republicans point to is that he “crammed ObamaCare down our throats” — a strange way to explain a bill that became law through the legislative process.
Let's just remind ourselves of how Republicans have treated Obama over his seven years in office, with a few of the greatest hits. You can start right on the day of his inauguration, when congressional Republicans gathered for a dinner at which they decided that rather than seek areas of cooperation with the new president, they would employ a strategy of maximum confrontation and obstruction in order to deny him any legislative victories.
They followed through on this plan. As Mitch McConnell explained proudly in 2010, "Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny Barack Obama a second term."
The Affordable Care Act itself was designed as something of a political compromise solution, containing elements of plans previously championed by Republicans. But Republicans in Congress closed ranks against the reform, eventually shutting down the government in protest of the law.
Senate Republicans’ attitude toward Obama’s judicial nominees has followed a similar pattern,even before the current Supreme Court showdown. As we noted last week, right-wing pressure groups and their allies in Congress, including Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, were trying to shut down the federal judicial confirmation process in Obama’s final year before Scalia’s death.
If Grassley is really now refusing to even meet with Obama to discuss potential Supreme Court nominees, the Right should finally retire its talking point that it’s Obama who refuses to reach across the aisle.
As the New York Times explained earlier this week, the Senate GOP’s promises to block anyone who President Obama nominates to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court amounts to a ratcheting up of a campaign of obstruction on nominees that has lasted throughout Obama’s time in office.
This is in part thanks to the lobbying of conservative groups who, even before Scalia’s death, were urging Senate Republicans to block nearly every Obama nominee in his final year in office.
A particularly influential force behind this effort has been the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that has in recent years become a bludgeoning arm for the Tea Party as it pressures GOP lawmakers away from allowing the government to function in any sort of bipartisan manner.
Heritage, under the leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint, and its more explicitly political arm Heritage Action, headed up by Michael Needham, have worked to pressure the GOP to be an immovable agent of obstruction in a divided government. One House Republican accused Heritage Action last year of insisting on “an unachievable standard” of conservativism that actually “hurts” the party’s goals by preventing reasonable action and compromise.
Heritage Action’s version of conservativism is so far out of the mainstream that even Senate Republicans score an average of just 60 percent on its legislative scorecard. The two senators who have perfect scores from group are Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been boasting of his bridge-burning obstructionism as he runs for the Republican presidential nomination. (Sen. Marco Rubio, a supposedly mainstream rival to Cruz, ranks an impressive fourth in Heritage’s ranking of senators.)
Heritage Action’s single-minded focus on attacking the Affordable Care Act infamously helped lead to the 2013 government shutdown. One fellow ACA opponent slammed Heritage and Cruz for the ordeal, writing that the “entire affair was bungled by a few narcissistic conservative groups and senators” and ended up actually hurting the cause they were claiming to support.
Heritage and Heritage Action have applied the same scorched-earth tactics to Obama judicial nominations, urging the GOP to shut down all executive branch and judicial confirmations even before the death of Scalia.
Politico reported in January that in advance of a GOP retreat in Baltimore, Heritage Action circulated a document among lawmakers declaring, “Given the Obama administration’s disregard for Congress’s role in our constitutional system of government, the Senate should refuse to confirm the president’s nominees unless those nominees are directly related to our national security.” This echoed previous calls from Heritage’s favorite senators, Lee and Cruz, to completely shut down the judicial confirmation process.
Later that month, Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky and American Family Association governmental affairs director Sandy Rios agreed that Republicans should oppose all future Obama judicial nominees because, in von Spakovsky’s words, they would all share Obama’s “radical left-wing views.”
On January 26, Heritage Action announced that it would “continue to oppose all judicial nominees and reserve the right to key vote against any and all judicial nominees retroactively,” meaning that it would count support for any Obama judicial nominee against members of Congress in its scorecards — even, apparently, in votes that had already taken place. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid specifically called out Heritage Action for pressuring GOP senators against action on judicial nominees.
Unsurprisingly, Heritage Action and the Heritage Foundation are now pressuring GOP senators to hold Justice Scalia’s seat open until the next president takes office. Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, who, as a Republican senator, built a reputation as a “warrior for purity” within the party, wrote on Tuesday that the Senate “can and should withhold its consent” from any Obama nominee.
In another interview with Rios on Monday, von Spakovsky offered a barely veiled threat to Republican senators contemplating considering an Obama nominee.
“I think they understand that if they were to confirm a liberal Obama nominee this year, it would be an absolute election disaster,” he said. “I mean, I’ve already heard from folks in the conservative community saying that if any Republican senator works to confirm an Obama nominee, they’re going to be a massive target of people trying to get them out of office because they’ll be so upset about that.”
Now that a Supreme Court seat is at stake, the conservative movement is converging on this line of thinking, inventing bogus new “traditions” in an attempt to justify keeping a Supreme Court seat open for more than a year.
There are plenty of conservative groups that are promising an all-out campaign to keep an Obama Supreme Court nominee off the bench — the Times says that the American Center for Law and Justice, the right-wing legal group founded by Pat Robertson, started opposition research on potential nominees “moments” after Scalia’s death was announced. But Heritage’s commitment to keeping any Obama nominees off the federal bench speaks to the real motivations behind the effort to stop any Supreme Court nominee: turning the Congress into a force of obstruction, not of governing.