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 TrumpFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Biden celebrates start of Hanukkah Fauci says lies, threats are 'noise' 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 McConnellFive issues that will define the months until the midterms  Key senators to watch on Democrats' social spending bill Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves 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 AyotteSununu setback leaves GOP scrambling in New Hampshire The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP dealt 2022 blow, stares down Trump-era troubles Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority 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 RubioRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead 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 Wellons Moore CapitoRepublicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall White House looks to rein in gas prices ahead of busy travel season Bipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise MORE (R-W.Va.).

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls 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 PortmanBipartisan success in the Senate signals room for more compromise Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — US mulls Afghan evacuees' future Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — DOJ unveils new election hacking charges 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Iowa Democrat drops bid to challenge Grassley after death of nephew Bipartisan senators press FBI, inspector general for changes following Nassar case 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.”