Nightmare builds for Senate GOP

Nightmare builds for Senate GOP
© Greg Nash

It’s a bad time to be a Senate Republican.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s death has put Supreme Court politics at the top of the Senate agenda — to the detriment of vulnerable Republican senators running for reelection in blue states.

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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE has coasted to big victories in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, strengthening his position as the pole-setter in the ­Republican presidential race.

It’s a nightmare scenario for GOP senators clinging to their majority.

“I think they’re very concerned if they’re up for reelection,” said former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R).

“I imagine [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.)] is more than concerned because clearly Trump at this time is not going to carry swing states,” Gregg added.

“I’m thinking of New Hampshire, for example.”

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteDems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Trump voter fraud commission sets first meeting outside DC MORE is one of five endangered Senate Republican incumbents running for reelection in states won in 2008 and 2012 by President Obama.

Republicans are also trying to hold on to a seat in Florida being vacated by Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Tillerson, Trump deny report of rift | Tillerson says he never considered resigning | Trump expresses 'total confidence' in secretary | Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad Rubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE, the GOP presidential candidate who is seeking to catch Trump in the White House race.

Additional seats in such states as North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and Arizona don’t seem in danger for now. But Trump’s rise coupled with the anti-Washington fervor gripping the GOP is fraying Republican nerves.

All in all, Senate Republicans meeting as a conference on Tuesday are confronting a congressional agenda and political atmosphere that has changed radically in less than two weeks.

“The anti-Washington message that’s obviously resonating — we’ve made a lot of changes in terms of leadership, and we’re not getting what we want — makes for pretty stiff headwinds for people running for reelection,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoLawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed It's time to eliminate the secretive Pharmacy Benefit Manager pricing practices MORE (R-W.Va.).

Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkGiffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Immigration critics find their champion in Trump MORE (R-Ill.), perhaps the most embattled Republican senator up for reelection this year, on Monday offered support for a Senate vote on a Supreme Court nominee sent by Obama.

Kirk’s written remarks were a clear-cut symbol of his worries about the stance of McConnell, whose comments have suggested there will be no hearing or vote on an Obama nominee.

In an op-ed published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Kirk said he recognizes “my duty as a senator to either vote in support or opposition to that nominee following a fair and thorough hearing.”

Kirk is in a particularly tough spot, but he’s hardly alone.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP), a left-leaning firm, found strong support from independents in Ohio and Pennsylvania for filling the Supreme Court vacancy this year. GOP Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Reddit hires first lobbyists Senate panel approves bill compelling researchers to ‘hack’ DHS MORE and Pat Toomey are running for reelection in the two states.

The PPP poll found that 70 percent of independent voters in Ohio and 60 percent of independent voters in Pennsylvania think the vacant seat should be filled this year.

Republicans on Tuesday will try to unify on a position. And on Monday, there were signals of new arguments that the GOP is likely to build upon.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans jockey for position on immigration House clears bill to combat crimes against elderly Grassley: DACA deal wouldn't need border wall funding MORE (R-Iowa), who will meet with members of his panel this week to discuss options, signaled that he will use Vice President Biden’s past words against Democrats and the White House.

In a floor speech about the “Biden Rules,” Grassley highlighted comments Biden made as a Delaware senator in June 1992, months before that year’s presidential election. Biden said that if a vacancy on the Supreme Court were to open, it should not be filled until after the presidential election.

“It is my view that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks or resigns at the end of the summer, [then-President George H.W. Bush] should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not name a nominee until after the November election is completed,” Biden said at the time.

Biden also said the Senate Judiciary Committee should “seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”

“These are the Biden Rules,” Grassley said.

Those rules, he continued, recognize that the Supreme Court can function with eight members and that the president should follow the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not nominate someone in an election year. They also recognize that the Judiciary Committee should consider not holding hearings, Grassley said.

“If the president of the United States insists on submitting a nominee under these circumstances, Senator Biden, my friend from Delaware, the man who sat at a desk across the aisle and at the back of this Chamber for more than 35 years, knows what the Senate should do,” Grassley concluded. “And, I believe, in his heart of hearts, he understands why it must.”