Hypocrisy rules on both sides over replacing Justice Ginsburg
It seems inappropriate to talk politics so soon after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, but decorum is not a hallmark of the times in which we live.
Hypocrisy, on the other hand, does seem to be a hallmark of our times, plentiful in both parties — but more on that in a bit.
So, less than 24 hours after the announcement of her death, President Trump tweeted that Republicans have an “obligation” to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by Justice Ginsburg “without delay.”
“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!” he said on Twitter.
This will please Mr. Trump’s conservative base, perhaps especially the white evangelical Christian contingent that cares so much about abortion. But it could very well cost him the presidency — and cost the GOP its control of the Senate, too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Friday night, just after Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced publicly, that “Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
In case you were wondering, this is the same Mitch McConnell who, four years ago, said something quite different in reacting to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Back then, McConnell said — nearly nine months before that year’s presidential election — that a successor should not be considered before the election; he then went on to block President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Go figure — a politician abandoning his supposed principles and behaving like a politician.
To be fair, McConnell offered an explanation for his reversal of principles. He said that, in the Obama-Garland case in 2016, the presidency was controlled by one party and the Senate by another party while today, in the case of Trump-Ginsburg, the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party. Apparently, that is supposed to make all the difference in the world and make unimpeachable sense to all Americans.
And, of course, McConnell did not specify when a Trump nominee would be put to a vote, leaving open the possibility that it could be done after November’s election. In fact, given the amount of vetting that goes into any nominee’s background, and the hearing process that would take place, a post-election vote might be more likely under the best of circumstances.
Still, even some Republicans who went along with McConnell four years ago know they could be risking their Senate seats now if they move to confirm a replacement for Justice Ginsburg before (or maybe even after) November’s election. Several GOP senators in close reelection contests this year already have said they don’t want a vote to come up until after the election.
So a majority “yes” vote in the Senate to replace Justice Ginsburg is no certainty, no matter how qualified that person might be. All that anyone can be sure of is that Sen. McConnell would be labeled a hypocrite by many if he brings a nominee up for a vote, possibly endangering the reelection chances of some GOP senators. And, of course, that President Trump could look like a pandering politician, too, perhaps risking his own chances for reelection.
Trump might have been wiser not to have impulsively tweeted his intention to name a replacement before the election. Instead, he could have considered going on television and calmly announcing that he would not move to replace Justice Ginsburg at this time, that there’s time enough for that after the election. Doing so would have reassured his base and conservatives generally that he has their interests in mind and remains committed to a certain kind of nominee.
Had he done that, he might have, for a change, come off as presidential, as conciliatory, which could help his reelection, especially with nonpartisan swing voters — even if, in reality, it was nothing more than a political ploy.
Sure, his base wouldn’t be happy if he postponed the nomination, but so what? They’re not going to vote for Joe Biden in retaliation, and they’re not likely to sit home on Election Day, either.
Democrats, meanwhile, are salivating at the opportunity Trump has given them — the opportunity to paint him as a politician without scruples or principles. This, even though they were vociferously and angrily demanding a vote on President Obama’s nominee during the 2016 election year. And even though Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in 2007 — 15 months before the next election, 17 months before then-President Bush would leave office — that Senate Democrats then holding the majority would oppose filling that lame-duck Republican president’s Supreme Court nominee, if a vacancy were to occur.
As I said at the beginning, neither party has a monopoly on hypocrisy.
Still, the decision to move quickly to nominate a replacement for Justice Ginsburg may wind up hurting Trump more than it will hurt Biden, now-Senate Minority Leader Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), or any other Democrat.
With just over a month before the presidential election, you’d think someone on Trump’s political team might have told him before he sent that early-morning tweet that he could be risking his presidency. Or maybe someone did, and he didn’t listen.
It wouldn’t be the first time — just as this isn’t the first time we’ve seen both parties in Washington wrap themselves in hypocrisy and take the exact positions they opposed a short time ago.
Bernard Goldberg, an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist, is a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” He previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.