HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — In a U.S. Senate divided with 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, finding common ground is often the key to getting things done.
But, with a Supreme Court seat in the balance, common ground does not appear to exist.
And the current heated debate over President Trump’s plans to fill the vacancy on the high court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is further fueled by Senate Republicans flatly reversing their position on an election year nomination in 2020, compared to the same choice in 2016.
The general election is now 42 days away.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the GOP has the votes to confirm the next Supreme Court nominee.
News 19 political analyst Jess Brown said the current fight has roots in the 2013 fight over the Democratic majority in the Senate ending the filibuster for presidential appointments and lower court judges — cutting out the minority party’s power.
“I think it’s appropriate to remember what you’re seeing now is simply another chapter in the book of what I view as extreme behaviors by Senate leaders. We are where we are today arguably not because of Mitch McConnell, we are arguably where we are here today because of Senator Reid, the Democratic majority leader in 2013,” Brown said. “Senator Reid reached frustrations that he could not get certain Obama nominees to the federal bench confirmed, and he needed 60 votes.
“And so, Senator Reid and the Democrats changed the Senate rules for lower court federal judges and all executive appoints to require only a majority, not the historic 60 percent. At the time when Senator Reid did that both Senator McConnell and Senator Thune, who were leaders of the Republican minority in 2013, said, ‘If you do this you will regret it. And of course the moment the Republicans got in charge and they needed to confirm Supreme Court justices they expanded the rule, they expanded the ‘nuclear option’ that Reid had set in motion and said you could confirm a Supreme Court with a simple majority.”
Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will vote on President Trump’s upcoming nominee. But in March 2016 McConnell argued the Senate shouldn’t vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland because it was too close to the election. McConnell and then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the American people, through the Presidential election, should be allowed to decide the next nominee.
Grassley has also reversed his position for the 2020 expected nominee.
Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland in March 2016 to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of leading conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
But the Garland nomination didn’t really get off the ground. He was never given a confirmation hearing and his nomination was never brought to the Senate floor.
McConnell’s move was backed by his GOP colleagues, though now-Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham said in 2016, it would work the same way for both parties.
“I want you to use my words against me,” Graham said in a Senate meeting in March 2016. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”
But he’s changed his position in 2020, citing the Reid filibuster move in 2013 and the charged confirmation hearings of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“In light of these two events, I will support President Trump in any effort to move forward regarding the recent vacancy created by the passing of Justice Ginsburg,” Graham said Sept. 19.
Alabama’s senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby has changed his mind as well. Back in 2016, he argued, “This critical decision should be made after the upcoming presidential election so that the American people have a voice. I am adamantly opposed to any senate action on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court.”
But now, Senator Shelby is ready to move ahead on the President’s pick for the Supreme Court.
“The circumstances that face the country and the current U.S. Senate are vastly different than those in 2016,” Shelby said. “At that time, the presidency and the Senate were of different political parties. The Senate has not filled a supreme court vacancy in an election year when there was divided government in nearly 130 years. If Democrats had the same opportunity as we do today, they would move forward just like the current Senate majority plans to do in the days ahead.”
Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat is running for reelection against Republican Tommy Tuberville. Jones criticized the current process and McConnell’s approach.
“Mitch McConnell did not even let the announcements get settled in right quick about RBG’s death, when he announced,” Jones said. “Just like he did with Antonin Scalia.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, says Democrats are fighting for Justice Ginsburg’s last wish, “that she not be replaced until a new President is installed.” Schumer also sharply criticized McConnell’s efforts.
“Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans are fighting to steal two Supreme Court seats, four years apart, using completely contradictory rationales,” he said.
But political analyst Brown said extreme behaviors on both sides are driving the debate and the bottom line is power.
“The leaders and many of the rank-and-file members of both parties in the United States Senate are interested in power,” he said. ” Not ethics, not hypocrisy. If they have to they will justify that water runs uphill and the Pope is Jewish, if the stakes are high enough. If the stakes involving maintenance and enhancement of power is great enough, they will lie, they will cheat, they will change their minds.”