By Alexander Bolton - 02/26/16 06:00 AM EST
Senate Democrats have some advice for President Obama when it comes to picking a nominee for the Supreme Court: Choose someone who Republicans will have a hard time opposing.
Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampMoney for nothing: Rethinking CO2 Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada MORE (D-N.D.) said Obama should nominate someone “who has already received a lot of consensus votes.”
Sen. Chris CoonsChris CoonsDem blasts Trump on 'jail' line: 'That's what dictators do' Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis MORE (D-Del.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Obama should pick “someone who is eminently qualified, has previously been confirmed, and is a consensus candidate.”
The White House and Senate Democrats are salivating at the prospect of using a year-long battle over the court as a cudgel against Senate Republicans
The Senate GOP has decided it will not grant Obama’s nominee a hearing or a vote, no matter who it is. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (R-Ky.) says he won’t even meet with an Obama nominee, arguing there’s no point since the next president should decide who replaces Justice Antonin Scalia.
Democrats think McConnell’s decision will come back to haunt them if they can convince voters that the Senate GOP is shirking its responsibilities.
They intend to make Republican senators uncomfortable if they refuse to meet or hold a hearing for a nominee the public sees as qualified and capable.
Wednesday’s leak of GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval as a potential nominee was an early sign of the Democratic strategy. It’s unclear how seriously Sandoval was being considered, but the message from the leak was to question whether Republicans would block a hearing for a respected governor from their own party. Sandoval pulled his name from consideration on Thursday.
Democrats say Obama should pick a nominee who has been confirmed overwhelmingly by the Senate in recent years.
They mention Jane Louise Kelly of the Eighth Circuit, who was confirmed 96-0 in 2013, and Sri Srinivasan of the D.C. Circuit, who sailed through in a 97-0 vote the same year, as examples.
Such a nominee would put pressure on Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans who have long prided themselves as honest brokers, such as Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenior Verizon exec believes hack will affect Yahoo deal GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Top Republican: Senate can't 'stonewall' Clinton Supreme Court nominee MORE (Iowa) and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchGOP lawmakers ask IRS to explain M wasted on unusable email system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Schumer says Pacific trade pact may have enough votes to pass the Senate MORE (Utah).
“We don’t want to nominate anyone who’s going to be pilloried as a liberal Robert Bork,” said a senior Democratic aide, who argued that politics around the court vacancy are so favorable that Democrats will be in good shape by following a simple guideline: “Do no harm.”
Scalia’s replacement on the court is a pivotal one.
Four of the court’s remaining justices are considered liberals, while four are conservatives. That makes the next justice a potential tie-breaker.
It’s one reason why McConnell immediately drew a hard line, deciding it was better to shutdown any debate than to let the prospect of hearings linger.
Republicans are also armed with the comments for Vice President Biden, who as a senator in June 1992 said no hearings or votes should be held on a Supreme Court nominee made by President George H.W. Bush. (There were no vacancies on the court at the time.)
Democrats believe they’re already scoring points on vulnerable incumbents such as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
A recent survey released by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, showed that 57 percent of voters in Pennsylvania believe the vacancy created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia should be filled this year.
Democrats hope to drive up the negative ratings of vulnerable Republicans such as Toomey by emphasizing their refusal to even consider Obama’s nominee.
They say that message will be heightened if Republicans block a pick they embraced only a few years ago.